Sunday, October 26, 2014 (Feast of Christ the King)

+J.M.J.+

I was thinking earlier that I hadn’t had anything exciting or traumatic happening this week, and so I might struggle with a topic to write about. And then I saw a post from one of my friends on Facebook talking about obsessions. The post was something along these lines: “Whatever we are obsessed with will consume us and blind us, leading us away from truth.” I got to thinking about that, wondering why that particular post felt like a knife thrust into my stomach, or someone ripping the blankets off me on a Saturday morning, exposing me to the cool air, to the truth, the truth that stabs at our conscience, demanding to be recognized. I thought about the past week, about how much writing I’ve been doing, about how much music I’ve been listening to, and about my recent Facebook confession of being ‘slightly’ obsessed with Josh Groban’s music. And then today, to top it all off, I heard a sermon of St. Alphonsus de Liguori’s on conquering our predominant passion. At this point, I realized—I’d been letting a bad passion creep up on me, slowly letting it take hold of my actions and thoughts, my desires and my words, and it was only going to get worse unless I did something about it.

So, I suppose, this post will be my ‘doing something about it.’ If I can get it out into the air, think about it, evaluate it, maybe I can take steps to stop it. The thing about passions is that they make their object look so darn inviting. I’ve realized, in looking back on my thoughts, my dispositions, throughout the past week or so, that writing and music were getting the best of me. I would wake up in the morning, wanting to do nothing but write, or at least to scrounge up as much time as I could throughout the day to write. I even posted a Facebook status about this desire. And with this desire, I would do my best to fulfill it, snatching moments of my lunch break at work, moments at naptime, moments in the morning, if possible, and moments after dinner and before the Rosary in the evening.

Now, there is certainly nothing wrong with making the most of my spare time, and writing is indeed a gift I believe God has given me to be used and cultivated, for His glory. But I noticed, at work, during nap, if one of the children happened to wake and needed to be tended to, I was loathe to put down the pen and go to them—and in all truth, their welfare is my first priority and duty while I’m at work! At home, if I was eagerly typing away in my Scrivener program, and my grandmother called to me to help her with something, or even if she poked in her head to check on me and ask what I was doing, I would reply with short, curt language: “I’m writing.” She would, of course, in her gentleness, hear the impatience in my voice and quickly withdraw herself. She respects my duty to write, and this is a wonderful thing.

Except, my duty to write does not EVER trump my duty to obedience and charity toward my neighbor.

Moving onto the next point. Never mind that I’d used every moment of spare time to make progress. Never mind that that progress is astounding (15,000 words in 10 days!). The next passion quickly crept up on me as the last began to ebb. (Writers often go through creative spurts where putting the pen down is very hard, and then a few days later crash and produce next to nothing.) I had begun to write while listening to my ‘Writing’ playlist, which includes various things, such as soundtrack music from various favorite movies, choral pieces that I’d sung in my college choir, Gregorian chant, and…a few bits of Josh Groban’s music. As I write (I hope what I’m explaining will make sense to you), I emotionally connect the scene that I’m writing with the piece of music that I’m listening to. And if the piece of music happens to match the mood of the scene I’m writing, all the better. I noticed that many of these songs that I’d been connecting (whether to various characters, situations, relationships, or events) were…you guessed it…Josh Groban songs.

Well, that’s where it started. I began to search for other Josh Groban songs and threw entire albums onto the playlist, putting it on shuffle in the hopes that I could find out which ones I liked and which ones I didn’t. Then I noticed I was skipping through the other songs on the playlist to get to the Josh Groban songs. I started looking up the lyrics to the songs and their translation (many are in Spanish/Italian) to see if the words meant anything to the scenes I was writing. Nothing wrong with any of this, I don’t suppose, in moderation. I would go to bed with his songs playing in my head and wake up with the same. (Sound familiar yet?) I would sing them even when I wasn’t listening to music. And when I began to realize that my enjoyment of his music was taking over, I tried to hold it back by abstaining from music on one day each week. My wake-up call came when I couldn’t even make it one day without listening to it, and I posted a Facebook status ‘confession’ about my new obsession. My co-workers (who are often the unfortunate victims of my music playing) liked my status as a sort of inside joke. Deep within, I knew something wasn’t quite right. Fortunately, the next week, I was able to make it my one day without music, and felt much better about everything.

In listening to the sermon today, I heard a couple of pieces of advice to help remedy these bad passions. One, the first and most important, is to kill them while they’re small. It is much easier to root out a sapling than it is a full grown oak tree with deep roots. The second interesting bit of advice is to turn the object of the passion into something virtuous. So, for instance, instead of being greedy about my time for writing, I could be ‘greedy’ about time for prayer, making time for it, putting it first, and going to it with readiness and joy. Instead of listening for hours on end to secular music, I could listen to more Gregorian chant, sermons, and other music that lifts the heart to God. And most of all, I think a good dose of resignation to the will of God will help with both. If God gives me the time to write, I should by all means use it, provided my spiritual duties have been accomplished, and provided I keep a meek and obedient disposition, to part from my work whenever the Will of God may call me elsewhere. Also, inserting more spiritual music into my playlist may help me turn my eyes to God more often during my writing. And…here’s another biggie…to write when I have the time to, even if I don’t feel like it. If God gives me the time to write, I should not waste it by procrastinating on the internet. Research is one thing, but procrastination looks and feels totally different from research. Research is for the purpose of fact-checking, mainly. Procrastination has no purpose, and therefore it is idleness, a vice so easily fallen into and, once fallen into, hard to escape.

I think the bottom line I truly need to learn and embrace is this: Our obsession should be with making it to heaven; our treasure should be found in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In nothing else can we find our true happiness, a happiness not quite experienced but hoped for in this life. This is why, I think, I often feel empty inside, hollow, even when I am doing something I’ve been looking forward to—something like, sitting down at my desk to write with a fresh cup of coffee and a crumpet and turning my playlist up to drown out the world. There is no joy in it, unless it is leading me closer to God, to my treasure, to my true home. If I am not writing to please Him, if I am not writing on His time, according to His will, it is meaningless, joyless, empty. The only contentment we can find in this life is in doing the Will of God. Period. And what is His will? Sanctity. That in all we do, say, think and desire, we reach higher, reach for Him and Him alone, and find our happiness nowhere else.

I have also learned this: It is a very difficult thing to deny your own will. It stings and scrapes at our pride like nothing else can. That is why it makes us saints. Because we suffer in so doing. Because we must fight. But in this fight, we will always be victorious so long as we do not give up, so long as we do not let go of the hand of God which sustains us in all things. And our bitterness will turn swiftly to sweetness when we look up to meet the eyes of God in our suffering and see Him gazing back in love and joy at us, see Him watching our efforts to please Him with infinite delight. We cannot hope to win the fight against our will if we do not love God.

All this to say, dear reader: Fix your ‘obsession’ on your heavenly home and Heavenly Father, for only this ‘obsession’ can bring us to everlasting felicity. All others will blind us and drag us away from God, our only Good.

And, a special ‘thank you’ to the friend who posted such a thought-provoking and soul-searching status.

+Deo Gratias! Maria Gratias!+

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

+J.M.J.+

Well, I encountered a very difficult situation this Friday. Everything had been going wonderfully. Our classrooms were combined into one room, and I had worked with the teacher of the other classroom all morning. We get along well, and it is, of course, much easier to work with someone who knows the schedule of the classroom and who knows the children. We had eight children between our two rooms, and they’d been behaving well (for a crawler, this means they hadn’t fallen off of things, smacked or clawed at other children, or otherwise gotten themselves into trouble). My coworker left at 2:30 each day, and so someone had to come in and take her place, because the ratio of teachers to crawlers is 1 to 5, and we still had 8.

A lady came in that I’d spoken to very briefly. She was from an outside temporary agency that hired out nannies and childcare workers. She’d done my breaks a couple of times before, and so I knew her name and face. Other coworkers had expressed a distaste for working with this lady, but I did my best to put their judgments aside and form my own.

We got along well for a time, because naptime was still going on—the children were to remain in their cribs until 3:30, when we would get them up, change their diapers and give them their afternoon snack. The children had been a bit crazy during nap, partly because there were so many of them in the room, and partly because one of them had to have a breathing treatment at 2:00 that had been rather noisy. 6 out of 8 were awake, but for the most part they were fairly content. All that to say, when this lady came in, we did well for a while because all we had to do was sit there and wait for 3:30 to come, occasionally checking diapers to make sure none of the children got diaper rash while they were waiting to come out of their cribs. We made a bit of small talk, and I thought to myself, “This isn’t bad at all. I think perhaps we will get along great and everything will go smoothly.”

Fast forward to 3:20. A couple of the children had been screaming since 2:45, and one had just started fussing and was being particularly loud. This lady asked if we could get them up early. I told her no, that we had to keep them on the schedule so that they can get used to it. We began to set out the high chairs, and I went behind the counter to heat up their sippy cups, only to discover the little crockpot we normally heat them in had been unplugged. I announced we’d have to heat the cups in the microwave. The lady expressed sympathy with my agitation.

At this point, things were still relatively okay. I’d remembered one of my coworkers telling me that this lady was known for questioning the schedule and asking multiple times if she could stray from it. But that was only once.

Then the diaper changes began. At around 3:25 this lady decided she wanted to pick up one of the children and carry them around. I had a specific order I needed to change diapers in, based on what time I knew they would probably leave. I wanted to make sure that the ones that left first got their snack first so they’d be done by the time their parents arrived. She brought me the child she’d been carrying, and I asked her if she could please bring me a different child.

“Oh, I didn’t know you had a specific order,” she said, and went to place the child on the floor.

“Oh, don’t put her down on the floor, put her back in her crib,” I was quick to say.

“Why?” she asked, giving me a confused look.

“Because,” I tried to explain gently, “she can walk and she may try to climb on the high chairs. It’s a safety hazard.”

“Oh.” She picked the child back up, and turned and flipped on the light switch.

“Oh, we can’t turn the light on right now,” I said. “There are children still sleeping, so we have to keep the light off ‘til they wake up.”

Her eyes bugged out at me in exasperation.

“Oh, for goodness’ sakes.” She carried the child back to her crib and set her down while I turned the light back off and carried on with my diaper changes, too stunned for words.

Several tense diaper changes later, the children were eating their snack. As I cleaned off one of the children, the lady reached over and turned down the music I’d had on for nap. Now, in a room full of screaming children, music calms me, because I can focus on the beauty of the music rather than their screaming. To have someone else come in and mess with that only added to my irritation. Struggling to control my rage, I reached up and ripped the auxiliary cord out of the stereo, shutting off the music completely.

“Oh, good,” the lady said, breathing a sigh of relief.

I know, I know. Music is such a small thing to get upset about. And I would have been much more obliging had she asked me to turn it down. And I know, her turning down the music is a very slight thing. I’m the type of person, though, that is loathe to touch things or mess with things in another person’s classroom, and if I have the overwhelming urge to do so, I ask first. So I guess it’s one of those things that specially irritates me, when people mess with my belongings or my settings and don’t even bother to ask. A pet peeve, I suppose. A fault to be overcome. But needless to say, it didn’t make the situation any better.

Continuing on.

I did fairly well dealing with the anger. I couldn’t stop myself from feeling it, but I did my best not to show it. We made conversation, some about the childcare facility and our personal beliefs about it. That was a bit more calming. We have similar views.

As we were cleaning up from snack, I did my best to get ahold of someone at the front desk so I could go use the bathroom—and calm myself a bit. The rage built up within me needed an outlet, and I’m a cryer when I’m angry. She made remarks here and there about different things. Most weren’t irritating, but some really got under my skin and blew on my rage like a strong wind building up a fire. I don’t remember what they were and I’m not going to take pains to remember. But at one point I knew—if I didn’t leave the room soon, I might snap with the next remark that grated at me. I found one of my directors out in the cafeteria and called to her. As she approached the door I slipped outside and shut the door briefly.

“Is there any way you can get her out of here?” I pleaded. “I’m losing my mind.”

She told me I’d have to wait til we were at ratio because there was no one else available to take her place, and so I went to the bathroom and cried a bit to release the anger. It only added to my desperation that as I was crying and trying to splash water on my face, kids were banging on the door to the bathroom.

Still, eyes a bit puffy, I marched back to the classroom and geared up for a battle with myself. As I stepped inside, I noticed there were children crawling around on the carpet while the high chairs were still out and cookie crumbs all over the tile. Ignoring this, I went behind the counter for the broom.

“I talked to the director. She said they usually get the kids up at 3, not 3:30. I told her you wouldn’t let me.” At this point, her remark was just another log in the fire already roaring within me.

“Well, I’ve always been told they wake up at 3:30. That’s what we’ve done since I’ve been here,” I said, as calmly as I could manage.

“No,” she said. “The director said 3.”

I didn’t answer. There was no point. Instead I cleaned off the high chairs, stacked them against the wall, and began to sweep, tossing the dustpan onto the tile.

“Don’t worry,” she said, “I’m watching the kids on the carpet.” I continued to sweep, turning when I heard little palms slapping the tile. One of the children was already on the tile and headed straight for the dustpan.

“Will you get him off the tile?” I demanded.

“Yes, yes, I’ve got him.” She went and picked him up and chuckled. “That’s the second time he’s gone for that dustpan.” I snorted internally.

“Yes, well, that’s why we usually keep them in their cribs until the cleaning’s done,” I said testily.

“I know, I know,” she said, and stood there watching them while I finished up, shaking with rage.

Thankfully, the director remembered my request, and as soon as we were down to five children she called into the room and sent the lady somewhere else. I think the lady sensed the tension between us.

“Gladly I’ll go,” she said with a small laugh, and went to fetch her shoes. I bade her have a good weekend and breathed a sigh of relief when she’d gone.

This was my experience with my human emery board. It is probably the second or third most trying thing I’ve experienced since my conversion. It is amazing how some people are designed to rub you exactly the wrong way and push all of your buttons with stunning accuracy. But without these people, we wouldn’t be able to progress in the spiritual life. In order to practice patience, we have to have someone to be patient with. In order to practice meekness and peaceableness, someone we have to make sacrifices for in order to get along with. I only hope, that knowing what this experience was, I will be better prepared to face it in the future, as well as others like it.

I realize maybe I have strange buttons, strange pet peeves…some of you might read this and think, “Well, I don’t see how she did anything wrong.” And perhaps you’re right. It is difficult coming into a new place and having to mold yourself to their schedule and procedures, especially if you have trouble seeing the motives or reasons behind that schedule and those procedures. It is also hard being the person used to said schedule and procedures and having someone come in and willfully go against them. I’m used to the workers from the temp agency simply being obedient and going along with everything. I’m used to being the one to have to direct, to point out which child is which, where their diapers are, where their cribs are, where they are supposed to be at what time, and to lead the effort to keep everything running smoothly. And usually the staff that come in to help me simply obey. That is what I would do, were I the one in a new childcare facility, were I the one unfamiliar with procedure.

Then again, I thrive on routine and procedure.

And maybe this lady doesn’t.

My theory is that, deep down, she doesn’t agree with the schedule or procedures. And I can understand that, and even respect it. It’s fine if this isn’t the way you’d want your household run. I might not run mine the same way. And my theory is also that she wanted to do things the way she thought they should be done, as much as I would allow her to, or as much as she could get away with. Hence the children on the floor, hence getting them up early to stop their crying, hence turning the light on or turning the music down, as she saw fit.

I can respect all of that. But in an institutional setting, with eight children to care for and only two teachers between them, the procedures and routines are there for a reason, and a simple reason at that: to keep both children and teachers sane. Hence keeping the children in their cribs while we clean up from mealtimes, hence keeping them in their cribs until naptime is officially over, so they learn to content themselves while other children are sleeping (because that’s what will happen in the toddler room), hence specific times and places for meals and specific tasks that must be done at each meal.

A routine for children so small may seem ridiculous or even cruel, but in all honestly, human beings thrive on routine, and especially children. Coming in from the infant room, where their schedules are much more flexible, sure, the routine may be hard at first, but after a week or two they get used to it. They sit in their cribs and play with the toy or the mirror without fussing. They fall asleep on their own and sleep at assigned nap times. They are hungry when it’s time to eat, and in between eating and sleeping, they are happy and content. And for us teachers, who may have to deal with a group of 8 or even 9 between 2 teachers, or 5 for one teacher, this routine is what makes taking care of so many children possible in the first place. And just because there is a routine doesn’t mean there isn’t any love. No, it’s certainly not how I would do things with my own household and my own children. But it makes sense in the context of having to care for so many children at the same time.

All that to say, I have another lesson under my belt and a long way to go still. God humbled me and gave me many graces that day—He kept me from boiling over and having an all-out crying and yelling fit, like I was tempted to, and He helped me to see her for what she is—a fellow soul, bought at the price of Our Lord’s most Precious Blood, and an invaluable help to my own soul by virtue of our conflicting personalities. We need our ‘enemies’ sometimes more than we need our friends, and affliction has much more to teach us than prosperity.

And the ironic twist to this story: Just that morning, I’d read in “Introduction to the Devout Life” a chapter entitled, “Gentleness towards others and Remedies against Anger.” Does God have a sense of humor? Did He give me a pop quiz? I think so. Most certainly.

May God grant me the grace to serve Him more faithfully in any other trials I might come across, and to be humble enough to see every trial and every soul for what they are.

+Deo Gratias! Maria Gratias!+

October 11, 2014

[+J.M.J.+]

So, it seems that the commitment to post at least once a week is harder than I thought. I apologize for the lapse in posts. I started drafting one at the end of September, but I don’t think I will post it. At least, not yet. This post, I think, will take a different route.

I’ve been hit with a bout of depression lately. Now, I’m not the type of person who can handle just shoving things aside that need to be dealt with, and when I noticed my melancholy over these past few days, I wanted to examine it. I am kept very busy with my full-time job working in the crawler room at a daycare. I am grateful I don’t have to take my work home with me like many do. I am not a morning person, however, and so my mornings are all about frantically getting ready and heading out the door (usually a few minutes late). I try to think in the car, which comes naturally to me since I spent several years in my middle and high school years riding the bus for 45 minutes in the morning and in the evening. It gave me lots of time to think, since I can’t read for very long without getting motion-sickness. I’m grateful for this habit. It gives me the time I need to sort things out. But here lately, I’ve been using the new stereo I put in my car, playing Disney music and classical and Gregorian chant. Not that any of that’s bad, just that…I started craving time in silence. I missed silence. Just listening to the noise of the road. Just listening to the sounds that a house makes as it settles. Last night, I sat in silence for a moment. I noticed it. It was deafening to me. I’m the kind of person who needs some sort of white noise…not radio, not voices, just noise, like water or a fan running. Pure silence does intimidate me. It makes me hyper-aware of everything around me, everything outside of me. Which, for inner reflection, does not bode well. So I turned on the fan in my bathroom (which adjoins my room) and when my boyfriend called, I reflected. I use him as a sounding board a lot. He listened patiently as I sorted out my thoughts, as I dug into the root of my depression and melancholy, brought it to the foreground, and put the puzzle pieces in place. Really, much of it was very easy to do, once I finally sat down and dug in. God gave me the grace in that moment to figure it out, I think.

This habit, of digging in, needs to be done more often. I’m preaching to myself just as much as I am preaching to you, dear reader. What I found surprised me, in good ways and in bad. My depression was not deep-rooted, which rang true with my intuition. Sometimes, the melancholy would seize me and I would be brought close to tears—but I could never cry. If I were truly and honestly, soul-deep, unhappy, I would have cried every night. I would have cried any time my thoughts got close to depression. But I never could cry. Something in me kept telling me, “It’s a nuisance…like a thorn in your foot. Nothing major. It does need to be dealt with so you can keep moving forward. It’s slowing you down.” So my mind justified shoving that to the back burner because, hey, it wasn’t a big deal. But things like that can become a big deal…or rather, you make them out to be a big deal and end up upset for no good reason.

No, the reason behind my depression is something I’m quite familiar with. It’s been plaguing me for the past few years, sticking thorns in my foot when I’m not paying attention, and being a nuisance, though not a danger. It’s a fear, a doubt, about the future, about the path God has placed me on, about marriage and about my past. This doubt can be paralyzing, but only if I let it. It’s something that won’t see reason; it’s something that tempts me to despair; it’s something I can’t argue with. I simply have to banish it with an act of faith in God. It sneers at me, “God is deceiving you. You are not safe on this path. You are on the wrong path. It doesn’t matter what your confessors have told you. What if they’re wrong? What if you are wrong about your past? What if there’s an impediment to marriage that no one knows about, or that you forgot about?”

I have tried battling it out. It’s too strong for me to fight on my own. I become overwhelmed, frustrated, angry and despairing. And that’s exactly where it wants me. Whatever ‘it’ is. I say back, “God would not lead me to a vocation which would be sinful or wrong under my circumstances. I have done my part. I have told the truth, and I’ve told it with all honesty and intention of wanting the truth about my circumstances in return. God would not deceive someone who honestly begged and prayed for the truth, no matter what it cost. He knows all. He is omniscient, not me. It is not my place to look for all the answers. God knows, and He will see to it that whatever needs to be known, will be made known, in the right time and place.”

Of course, it dismisses my argument with a simple retort. “But what if He doesn’t?”

See, this is where the act of faith needs to come in full force. Argument does not prevail against temptations like this. Only a simple and childlike faith and trust in God will serve to overcome it. And I think, last night, I finally grasped this truth. I see now that perhaps God wants me to learn this childlike faith. And He is allowing this temptation to buffet me for that purpose. Thank God that He has seen fit to preserve me from total despair thus far. I have fallen under the weight of this cross many times, but God has not taken it away. He keeps giving me grace to see better, to walk more strongly, and to keep going towards Him. I have to put off my silly intellectual pride in order to keep going, and this is perhaps why He is humbling me with this cross. “Be childlike. Trust in Me. It is I Who knows all, Who sees all, not you. See yourself for the stumbling child of dust you are, and see how much love and grace I pour out on you every moment. If only you will humble yourself, I will exalt you.”

Little children do not ask ‘why’. I am not talking about 4 or 5 year olds who ask every question under the sun. I am speaking of 2 and 3 year olds, who I see running to their mothers and fathers each day, who expect their mothers and fathers to be infallible, unfailing, in picking them up each day, in lifting them up into their arms, in making them better when they are sick, in caring for their wounds, in giving them meals each day. If little children have such trust in their parents, who are as human as we are, why can we not trust God the same way, Who truly is infallible, perfect, and unfailing in all of His promises?

Let us not allow distrust and doubt to hinder our running to God. Let us run to Him, arms wide in trust, marvelling at His greatness and our littleness, and at His condescension to love us more than we could ever love ourselves. He is faithful and unfailing, and He will not despise a contrite and humble heart that cries to Him in trust.

+Deo Gratias! Maria Gratias!+

“As Long As It Makes You Happy…”

+J.M.J.+

The next time I hear someone say, “As long as you’re happy…” I might just fall over and cry. Happiness is not why we’re here. We’re here to gain happiness for eternity. Which is better? A fleeting, inconsistent, temporary happiness now, or a perfect, unending and never-diminishing happiness in eternity? In other words, I don’t particularly care if I’m happy or not. So long as I am doing the will of God, I will have the peace that surpasses all understanding. It is more than enough. Whatever pleases God, may it please me to accept it. To purchase temporal happiness at the price of God is never, ever, in any way, shape, or form, worth it. But gaining God at the price of being resigned to God’s will, at the price of loving Him and keeping His commandments (which are for our GOOD, not our MISERY, by the way), is ALWAYS worth it. “For he that will save his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for my sake, shall find it.” (St. Matthew 16:25, DRA) May I never say, “As long as you’re happy, that’s all that matters,” ever again. In many circumstances, those are words that kill, words that encourage people to sin, words that show a dire lack of charity on the part of the speaker. In other words, they mean this: “I don’t care if you’re offending God. I don’t care that sin cuts you off from the friendship of God, which is the greatest good anyone can possess. I would rather you have this temporary good, which in reality is an evil, because it separates you from God. It also does me the benefit of not having to correct you, because who likes being corrected? You would just not like me, and I can’t deal with that. So yeah. Do whatever you want. Go to hell. I don’t care. As long as we can still be buddies and exchange happy sentiments (which by the way, can only last as long as we’re alive, which isn’t very long, relatively speaking).”

This is honestly what people mean when they say these words. I know this, because I’ve said them myself. Some, granted, say it with an ounce of sincerity–they truly do wish happiness to the other person. But they are wishing them a lesser good, one that will ultimately lead to an evil, the worst evil that can befall any man–the loss of God. And for those who do not believe in eternity (it’s real, either way you believe), this is the only good they can wish someone. A fleeting, temporary, unsatisfying happiness that may or may not even happen. That’s the best they can do for someone. Just sort of, in a disinterested way, hope that their life is happy, because hey, life is meaningless anyway, so you might as well have the semblance of joy while you’re here. Wicked or just, suffering befalls all humanity. No atheist, however sincere, can do their neighbor an ounce of real charity, because they cannot alleviate the spiritual suffering of their neighbor. Sure, they can perform works of mercy. But as for the supernatural virtue of charity, the queen of all virtues, they cannot possess it or use it. It is the love of God, and the love of our neighbor for the love of God. And the only way to comfort the suffering is to remind them that God sees and knows all, that He ordains suffering only to bring them closer to Him, and that Our Lord has instructed us to carry our crosses with Him, that we may gain the eternal reward once our work is faithfully completed. What meaning, what purpose do those who do not believe in eternity assign to suffering? An inconvenience, a misfortune…but without meaning, without purpose and therefore, without consolation. If I knew that typing this blog post was purposeless, what reason would I have to continue it? Those that believe life and suffering have no purpose….what reason do they have to put up with life and its ‘misfortunes’ and ‘inconveniences’? The love we feel for other human beings, the affection we feel for our pets, the fierce love parents have for their children…how can anyone say that is purposeless?

And knowing that God is our only and greatest Good, how can we, who KNOW better, say that we are performing actual charity when we say “As long as you’re happy” to someone who’s about to commit some grave sin that will sever their friendship with God?

Just a few pointed questions for the day.

P.S. I apologize for the delay between posts. I’ve been kept busy with my novel (which is a good thing, but it does cut into my blogging time…). I hope you will forgive me, dear reader.

+Deo Gratias! Maria Gratias!+

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Forgive me the delay in posting. This post was written (the vast majority of it) on Sunday and was meant to be posted on Sunday. 

+J.M.J.+

It is Sunday once more, and for the first time in what feels like forever, I was able to go to Mass today, thanks be to God! I am so richly blessed to be able to receive the True Sacraments as often as I do. I met with two good friends of mine after Mass, who were recently married just earlier last month. I can’t believe they’ve already been married a month. It seems that though the ‘honeymoon’ phase still lingers a bit, the stresses of married life have already set in. In leaving one’s father and mother, especially if you have several younger siblings, it sometimes requires that the many duties which the married sibling used to perform must now be performed by another, and usually the mother or another sibling. With this young couple, there are already stresses with work, school, and family, that even with their nearly-ideal circumstances (the wife coming from a traditional Catholic family), are very hard to bear. Seeing their bliss coupled with their responsibility presented a seemingly discordant picture in my mind. How can married life be happy when there is so much sacrifice involved?

I know (from watching others and from advice given to me) that marriage is NOT the pretty tea-cup ride that many, if not all, of us are taught to imagine. But I guess it’s taken me a little while to work up the courage to take off the rose-colored glasses and face the inevitable: Marriage, especially Catholic marriage and especially in this day and age, is a heavy cross.

Now, don’t go looking at my thesis statement there and think, “Wow, that’s pretty pessimistic.” No, my friends, this is REALISTIC. Just because marriage is a cross does NOT mean that there aren’t any joys to be had in it. In fact, for truly Catholic spouses, the fact that marriage is a cross makes the bond sweeter. Our Lord Himself tells us that if we would gain heaven, that we must take up our crosses and follow Him. In a marriage, we are accepting the cross that God gives to us (marriage and its duties, responsibilities, and sorrows) and carrying it together. I believe married people are intended to carry a single cross, a cross much too heavy for only one to bear alone. It requires both spouses carrying ALL that they can carry in order to lift it, and it takes both spouses walking the SAME DIRECTION in order to take it where it needs to go. If either of these requirements are lacking, if either spouse slacks in their duties, the burden on the one remaining faithful becomes almost unbearable. Now, this is the case with secular marriages which exclude God. They take on the cross, but with no supernatural helps, no sense of direction or even agreement of direction, and no promise or bond tying them to the cross. This is why when one partner is remiss in their duty, the other leaves. They have no help to carry the cross and so they cannot bear it up. They do the only thing that they know how to do—they abandon the cross. We have many abandoned crosses littered throughout our world today. But these crosses are not wholly abandoned, even when those who took it on leave it behind. Parts of it are passed on to the children of such partnerships, and parts of it are kept within the hearts of those who leave it, as a painful reminder of their failure and insufficiency.

This, my friends, is why marriage is a Sacrament, and why the Church urges her children so much to marry within the Church, that is, to choose a Catholic spouse. She knows, through centuries of bitter experience, how many separations, how many miseries, how many unbearable crosses have been borne unnecessarily throughout the years, all because her children were not wise in the choosing of their partner. If we are going to choose a fellow laborer, we do not want to choose someone who is slothful in their duties, who is not punctual, who is not loyal and faithful to see the work through to the end. No, we want a good companion, someone who will make the work lighter, who will help steady us when we stumble, who will lead or be led as need be. Why would we choose any less for our spouse, who is to carry such a heavy load with us until death? Why would we choose any less for our spouse, when this work that we shall take up with them will determine not our temporal wages, but our eternal welfare? And why would we shun the helps that Christ Himself offers us through Holy Mother Church in the undertaking of such an important enterprise?

It is inconceivable to me, and to many Catholics, that some that call themselves Catholics frown upon the Church in her wisdom. Can they not see that it is out of a supernatural, motherly love that she calls her children to choose very carefully, and forbids them to choose from those that would be a danger to their souls? Such ‘Catholics’ act like headstrong youths, who declare that they know better than their mother, who declare that they can choose more wisely, who declare that ‘love conquers all’, even boundaries of religion and sinful habits of character.

No, my friends. I can say, from my own experience, that there is a terrible wake-up call for those who find themselves unequally yoked with an unbeliever. I myself just barely escaped such a union, because my circumstances enabled the use of the Pauline privilege. I had a natural marriage contract that I had made with someone as a Protestant that had not been overseen by any minister, but my ‘spouse’ was not a baptized Christian, and when I left him and began my process of converting to the Church, he let me know just what he thought of my pending conversion, and declared he never wanted to talk to me again, that Catholicism was evil and that I was a bad influence. I was able to call upon the Pauline privilege because of his aversion to my faith and his certain antagonism toward it, and because he was not baptized, rendering the marriage contract we had non-Sacramental, and therefore dissolvable in such a case as this. Now I am free to remarry a Catholic (and indeed, God saw fit to bring me and my current boyfriend together after the process of my conversion). But I still suffer the consequences of such an improper and unlawful union—I’ve had to wait longer for this marriage, and because of my over-scrupulosity sometimes suffer attacks of doubt and guilt because of my lost purity.

I can honestly say that out of all the mistakes I’ve made in my life so far, that previous union was the worst and has had the most effect on me. I wish with all my heart I had listened to everyone who had told me to hold off on commitment until after college, until after I’d ‘found myself.’ But unfortunately, all too often, it takes such a sobering as this to finally shatter the rose-colored glasses, and unfortunately, many times the damage is irreversible and inescapable. I thank God every day that He saw fit to bring me through the fires of that trial without leaving me in them, and that He is giving me another chance to prove the lesson I’ve learned and carry the cross with someone very capable of carrying it with me. I promised myself and God that if He were to give me another chance at marriage, I would do it right. And so far, God has helped me very graciously to keep that promise. I have been dating my boyfriend for almost 3 years—our relationship has been pure and chaste, thanks be to God and to Mary, our Mother, and we have shared all of our hopes and desires for marriage, pleased to find that time and time again, God has implanted in us a GPS, so to speak, and it’s set for the same place, going the same route.

My situation, I feel, is very rare, and I would caution any young readers who believe they have been called to marriage: PLEASE CHOOSE WISELY. The choice of your spouse doesn’t just affect you now—it affects you for the rest of your life. Do not think that it is a mistake easily remedied should you find that you chose unwisely. And should God give you the grace to realize your mistake before marriage—PLEASE GET OUT OF THAT RELATIONSHIP! It doesn’t matter how much feeling you may have for someone, or how much you believe in the power of love to change people. Do not play God. God is the only one with the power to move hearts, and even He does not move unless He is invited. Do not think you are so powerful, or that purely human love is so powerful, as to erase a person’s bad habits or irreligious tendencies. Human nature does not work that way. Each of us has a free will, and only when a person truly desires to change is there any hope for change. All the power of your will cannot change another person’s actions, cannot make them want to change, cannot make the change happen in them. Not even God can make this happen against a person’s will. He has given this privilege of free will to each of us that we may CHOOSE to love God—otherwise we would be automatons.

All this to say, that marriage is a cross—why choose a partner that is going to make that cross more heavy and difficult for us to carry? Why let ourselves be deluded by the world’s promises of bliss and fairy-tale contentment and happy-ever-afters, no matter who you marry? Young men and women, do not let pretty looks or the fires of passion consume your reason and judgment. We are young and inexperienced…we need to take the advice of our dear Mother Church, who has centuries of wisdom to pass on to us, and wishes only for our happiness, both here on earth and most importantly, in eternity. Only choose a spouse who is going the same direction as you are, who is going at the same speed, and who is equipped with the spiritual muscle to shoulder the cross of marriage with you. Note that this takes time and wisdom to discern; do not shun the advice of your elders and superiors with regards to your possible candidates for marriage. Very often they advise based on both solid experience and a deep inner intuition that comes only with time. They do not advise to bring you misery, but rather, to help you avoid misery and bring you happiness. So often, young people like myself wake up to their awful predicament and regret, with tears and heart-rending contrition, that they spurned the kindly admonitions of a parent or spiritual father. And very often, it is too late for them to extract themselves from their horrid condition.

I sincerely apologize that this has turned into a sermon, but I feel it is only necessary to share my own experience in the hopes that it will deter another young person like myself from treading a dangerous and deadly path to temporal misery and eternal ruin. The choice is entirely in your hands, dear reader: You can gain a treasury of precious advice and gems of wisdom at the small price of your youthful pride, or you can cherish your pride and run headlong into the arms of destruction. Note that I am preaching as much to myself as to any of you. In some ways I feel too young to be saying these things. But experience is experience, and because I have learned from it at a dear price, I feel it too precious a gem to keep to myself.

May God bless you and Mary keep you, dear reader.

+Deo Gratias! Maria Gratias!+

Monday, September 1st, 2014

+J.M.J.+

First of all, dear readers, I want to apologize for the unexpected hiatus. I suppose a few updates are in order…let’s see. I have graduated college (Thanks be to God!) with my Bachelor of Science in English and Minor in Music. I have purchased my first car, reclaimed a summer job at a local daycare that I hope to keep for a while, and am doing well being a real-live adult, making my own car payments and insurance payments, paying for my own groceries, etc. I have a smartphone now as well…I finally upgraded in July when the buttons on my old Samsung Blackberry spin-off started to malfunction. (They’d actually been doing that for a while…I just was too lazy/too broke to replace it.) I got my hair cut as well…suffice it to say I have PLENTY to donate. =) I also passed the benchmark for two years as a Catholic in July!

Also, in less exciting news, I got a filling replaced a couple of weeks ago. But I did learn a valuable lesson from that whole experience that I want to share with you guys.

It started a week or so before I made the appointment towards the end of August to see a dentist. I began to have random, aching pains on the left side of my mouth. It became so bad that I would wake several times during the night, or in the night tear my retainers out of my mouth to try and relieve the pain. It came to the point where I could not chew with that side of my mouth, and I couldn’t eat crunchy foods even on the other side of my mouth (I was in the habit of bringing baby carrots for lunch…that definitely had to stop.). I had to chew super carefully and was on a strict regimen of extra strength Tylenol that barely took the edge off the pain. And shame on me if I did something to trigger it…no amount of Tylenol could stop the throbbing pain that overtook the whole left side of my face and shot up into my head, once almost giving me an instant headache. I would have to lay down with pressure on that side of my face and breathe deeply to get the pain to ebb, and then I would have to be sure not to eat or drink anything crunchy, chewy, hot or cold.

Eventually, after one such incident where I could hardly finish my lunch for the pain, I decided enough was enough. The next day I called and made an appointment with a local dentist and described my symptoms, and (thank God!) she said she could get me in the next day, first thing in the morning.
That afternoon, I reflected on the whole experience, with the hope that I was nearing the end of this continual torture. I realized that, though the pain was problematic, and that it could indicate a health issue with my teeth, it had helped me to do a couple of things that were hard for me to do on a regular basis, me being young and all and still in pretty good health (thanks be to God!).

First, I was able to be more moderate with food. I had never really understood the connection between fasting and grief, although I had experienced the loss of appetite that comes with high emotion before. When I was in pain, worrying about the health of my teeth, food was no longer appealing. I ate much less during that week or so than what I normally do. Normally, I’m a bored eater. I also “graze” throughout the day, taking small snacks here and there, rather than eating 2-3 full meals. Not so when I was in pain. Food was torture. It triggered my pain, and when the pain came my hunger left. I ate only as much as was necessary to keep my energy up, and drank coffee for the caffeine boost. I also drank lots of water and cut out sugary foods, as I was worried that my pain was from some hidden source of decay deep in my teeth. In this way, I realized I was becoming detached from food (that may sound weird, but I am what some people might call a ‘fat kid’ or ‘foodie’ in that I particularly enjoy my comfort foods, and trying new foods.)

The next area I noticed improving was my spiritual concern for others in that I was offering up my toothaches as penance for my family members and friends. This made the pain more bearable; I knew that any suffering can be put to a purpose when we offer it to God for our own good or for the good of someone else, whether they be living or dead (the holy souls in Purgatory). And with that in mind, my pain was not mindless and random. It was necessary, even merciful, and yes…sometimes even sweet. When we can suffer and say within our hearts, “God, I give this to you for so-and-so’s conversion or for the relief of so-and-so in Purgatory,” it makes the burden sweeter…it makes it a labor of love. Sometimes it was hard to think of it that way, especially when I just wanted to lay on the floor and cry despite my coworkers eating their lunches beside me, but the precious moments I was able to pull from that experience were well worth the pain. And the value of the old adage, “This, too, shall pass” was tested and tried and found most certainly true.
And now, here I am, with a new composite filling in one of my bottom left molars, and with the knowledge that I have two baby teeth with no adult counterparts just waiting to fall out of my head. Other than that, though, I’m good to go! Ha…just wait til these baby teeth fall out. It’ll make those years in braces worthless unless I can scrape up the money for implants. My dentist did say some people die with their baby teeth still in their mouths. We’ll see. If that’s what God wills, I’m sure I can deal with it, by His grace. The filling seemed to help greatly with the pain…I’ve been able to sleep with my retainers in again, and no more toothaches during the day. Sometimes I get a little pain here and there, but it’s mostly in my jaw, and I think it’s because the filling is a little too high…because I’m having trouble biting as well. Still can’t chew on that side, but as long as there’s no pain, I can deal with that.

Anyway. I won’t bore you with my dental problems. I only brought it up because I wanted to share those two valuable lessons I learned. I do hope to start posting more regularly again, at least once a week. My work schedule typically allows for some time in the afternoon while the children are napping, so I will do my best to be more consistent. In the next post, I hope to talk a bit about a book I just read (read: that I spent all day yesterday finishing) that is over 100 years old, but surprisingly relevant and accurate to the times we find ourselves in today; I also want to reflect on a conversation I had with a co-worker that took a surprising turn toward the faith, and revealed some interesting things.
I hope I have not lost you, dear readers…thank you for sticking around with me and my inconsistent posting habits! May God bless you and Mary keep you!

+Deo Gratias! Maria Gratias!+

P.S. Don’t forget—September is the month of Our Sorrowful Mother. There are also 3 Ember Days in September: on Wednesday the 17th, Friday the 19th and Saturday the 20th. These are days of fast and partial abstinence (except Friday, which is full abstinence), and the Ember Days should be offered for our priests, and for new vocations to the priesthood.

Friday, May 9, 2014

+J.M.J.+

Well, perhaps in this post we can get to some more of the numerous things I have learned in the past week or so, such as diligence, keeping promises, and more recently, humility. I’ve learned more things about faith from my catechism readings, and I still have those post-grad hopes to share…we still may not get to them all, and that’s okay.

With regards to diligence…I feel this is a virtue that is highly lacking, both in myself and in the world as a whole. Diligence is working at something, building up your skills, learning from your mistakes, and through it all, never giving up. Learning the faith requires a lot of diligence…and a lot of humility. Humility truly is the root of this virtue of diligence. We must first realize that we have something to learn, that we are not where we need to be with some skill, some virtue, some gift or talent that needs development. This requires humility, looking at ourselves as we are and evaluating truthfully what we are capable of (honestly, nothing without God’s grace) and what we are not. When we see those many areas in need of development, we employ the virtue of diligence– a mixture of patience, perseverance, wisdom, hope and courage–to get the job done.

In addition to employing this virtue, we must also pray for it, and ask for God’s grace to see us through to the end of our task, no matter how long it may take or how many times we may fail at it. There are no true failures unless we give up. And when it is virtue we seek, which draws us closer to God and renders our soul more pleasing to Him, He will not fail to give us what we ask for. That is the great thing about diligence in the spiritual life–it always has a pay off, whereas diligence in the purely temporal aspects of our life (asking our boss for a raise, working to gain some skill we are not particularly gifted in, etc.) does not necessarily guarantee a reward. But the old adage holds true, most especially in the spiritual life: “The squeaky wheel gets the oil.”

I believe Our Lord told a parable about a widow pestering a judge to hear her case. After asking continually that the judge avenge her, though the judge did not fear God or man, he eventually granted her what she asked. Our Lord comforts us with this, saying that God will swiftly avenge His elect who cry to Him for justice (Luke 18:1-8, DRA). If an unjust judge heard the case of the persistent widow, will not God hear the prayers of His people? We must have diligence in prayer; we read in the lives of the Saints how their diligence won them what they asked for–and often more than what they asked for. The first instance that comes to mind is the diligence of St. Monica for the conversion of her husband and son. After years and years of weeping and praying, her prayers were answered and she died in the knowledge that her husband and theretofore lost son were reconciled to the Church and to God. And not only did her prayers for their conversion bring their desired fruit, but her son became a great Saint, a Doctor of the Church! Thus God always repays those who cry to Him without fail, giving even more than their prayers’ request in His goodness and kindness towards them.

Diligence also teaches us about hope. Why are we diligent unless we earnestly hope for what we seek? If we did not hope for it, diligence would be of no use to us. What we seek would be always out of reach–thus those who lose hope often cease from doing good works and sometimes even take their own life, no longer seeing the usefulness of anything they do. No, friends, hope inspires diligence, as do humility, love of God, wisdom and courage. We love God; we hope to possess Him, and He gives us the wisdom and courage to seek Him with all our might, and the patience and perseverance to keep going–thus resulting in diligence, a lovely name we can use for this lovely virtue, a ‘compound’ virtue, if you will. It requires a lot of us, but the grace of God is sufficient for us in all things.

Also, on a side note, we must have diligence in keeping promises, not only between neighbors, but in our state of life and in our spiritual lives as well. At Baptism we make a promise to God to serve Him only. In Holy Matrimony we promise God and our spouse to remain with them, dwell with them, and raise children in the Catholic faith with them until death parts us. In Holy Orders the soul commits itself to serve God in a special way and devotes itself to the pastoring of souls and care of the Sacraments. Special promises to God are made by those of a religious vocation as well. Whatever our state of life, we have made a promise of one type or another to God to serve Him in a certain way, and that is why obedience and diligence in the duties of our state of life are so vital, and why it is a grave sin for us to neglect them. Our duties are part of a promise we have made to God, and therefore require diligent observation and care. We are diligent in them because we hope to obtain the reward of our promise to God, and hope to obtain His helps in keeping our promises, and most of all because we hope to possess eternal life with God.

Our chosen state of life is our little roadway to Him, and we must be willing to persevere through anything we find on that path, because this is the only road for us–this is the road we have promised God to travel on, and the road He has promised to help us travel, in order to reach Him. So diligence requires hope for something, and the highest hope is to hope to possess God. This is why we keep our promises–each one is important, each one requires diligence to keep.

Even among our neighbors, we are required to keep our promises, because they bind us on our word, and to fail in them means to tarnish our name and, more importantly, to dishonor God. Dutiful obedience to His commands brings honor and glory to God. When we do not obey, or are remiss in our duties that we have bound ourselves to, we dishonor God by disobedience and by turning away from the promises we have made. God never fails in His promises, and therefore we, as representatives of God and of His Church, made in His image, bring dishonor to God by acting contrary to the One we represent.

Also, humility and self-knowledge should keep us from making promises that we are unable to keep. We should not bind ourselves to something that is outside of our power, but only what is reasonable for us to keep and hold ourselves to. And in any promise we make, whether to God or our neighbor, we should ask God to help us keep it, because only by His grace can we stand, and only by His grace are we made to live according to the Truth.

Well, that covers quite a bit. I learned a lot just by writing this today, and I hope you, dear reader, have gained something here by my humble scribblings. May God bless you, and hopefully next time I can share some of my hopes for the future, and what God has given me thus far in this new chapter of my life.

P.S. Don’t forget–the Month of May is dedicated to Our Lady!! Honor her and thank her for her holy intercession and maternal love for us by some special prayers, devotions, readings, etc., especially in this month devoted to her!

+Deo Gratias! Maria Gratias!+