Holy Week: A Journal Pt. 6

Good Friday

The sound of tears is only outdone by the shattering of hearts all around. It seems wrong in a way that today should be so beautiful, with a bright, sun-filled sky and flowers beginning to bloom everywhere. Only the leafless trees seem to understand, and even they are putting forth buds.

But they’re right, in another way.

We ought to mourn today. We ought to cry, to grieve, or to sit in silent reflection. Our hearts ought to be broken when we look at the wounds of Christ and hear His prayer for our forgiveness, when we see Mary weep as she kisses the feet of her Son, when we hear the soldier cry out in faith as his heart turns violently in His chest.

And yet, there ought to be just a whisper of a promise echoing still in our hearts, and echo that nature itself seems to speak today.

This is not the end.

It’s a beginning.

Holy Week: A Journal Pt. 5

Holy Thursday

You certainly didn’t hesitate to show me the shadows, Lord.

Which made carrying the candle that almost blew out all the more meaningful.

It was like my hope in You, Lord. And because it was in You, it couldn’t be put out, although the winds of this life have certainly tried. The only time it went out was when it was blown out as I walked into the Chapel. I didn’t need it any more then. The Chapel was filled with candles, and more importantly with Your presence in the Eucharist.

It’s like our lives. If Christ is our hope, nothing in this life can put it out, no matter how low the flame may seem to get, no matter how hard the winds blow. It only goes out when we leave this world, and then we don’t need it any more, because we have Christ Himself in Heaven. Christ never fails us.

But we have the choice to blow out the candle ourselves. To walk away.

It hurts like heck to have the flame purge away the darkness inside. But better that than to get lost forever in the dark.

Holy Week: A Journal Pt. 4

Spy Wednesday

Tenebrae. What a melodious word. Just speaking it is like silk in my mouth. And yet it’s the Latin word for ‘shadows’, those dark things that fall gloomily to the earth as the sun sets.

How fitting.

The Triduum is here at last. The solemnity is almost tangible here…the shadows have fallen, and only one candle remains in this darkness which now falls: a promise. A promise of hope, of resurrection. A promise of redemption and salvation that fought back the darkness for centuries. A promise which was fulfilled, bringing light into the world to stay until the last breath of the last mortal on earth. How I long for that light.

But first, I must pass through the shadows.

I must look at my life and see the places that have become darkened by sin and covered over with cobwebs of excuses. I have to face the fearful monsters under the bed of my consciousness. I have to enter into that moment in the world when everything hung on the edge of its seat, then screamed in agony as the light seemed to be snuffed for good.

Only then can I truly know what a great miracle it is that the light would return, more alive than before, to scatter the tenebrae.

I can only know what a great miracle it is that Christ won the victory when I know how very much of a defeat it seemed to be.

 

Holy Week: A Journal Part 3

Somehow, there doesn’t seem to be much of a lesson today…

I just feel…numb. And tired. Not anticlimactic, really, just…sad in a way that doesn’t bring me to tears but just makes me want to sit and stare at a wall until I start to feel again.

I guess I’m just homesick.

Homesick for Heaven.

I’ve listened to this song so much the past few days, and it kind of puts things well for where I am. I’m clean from Confession, I’m in a good place overall, but it just doesn’t feel like it’s enough. Things aren’t empty, just insufficient. Heaven just sounds great right now.

And it’s crazy to think I wouldn’t be able to get there if You hadn’t died for me.

Thank You.

Holy Week: A Journal Part 2

Monday

Just…Monday? Is that it? Something huge is gonna happen! What’s the big deal?

Patience.

…really? A lesson in patience? That’s what you’re gonna try to pull on me right now?! PATIENCE?!

Perseverance.

Wow. Ok. That’s just–great. I mean, c’mon, nothing? No special commemoration? No big anticipatory thing? Nothing?

Patience. Perseverance.

Well fine then, it’s not like this wasn’t, like the biggest week of Your life or anything…

I wonder…

What was Your Monday was like?

There was time between coming to Jerusalem and the Passover…You already knew exactly what was gonna be coming. It was going to hit Your hard when You got to the Garden of Gethsemane. Was part of it because You had to go on living, go on teaching, go on serving for another few days?

You were literally born to die. For me. For all of us. What was it like to walk among the people You were about to die for, knowing exactly who was going to stay faithful and who was going to abandon You? To walk the streets You had just been paraded down on a donkey, knowing you’d be staggering down the same way with blood, sweat, and a cross on Your back?

What kind of perseverance did that take?

And how often have I let  impatience over something infinitesimally less weighty lead me to sin?

Patience. Perseverance.

Holy Week: A Journal

Palm Sunday

Pay attention. Something huge is about to happen.

It’s already here…the time has crept up so stealthily, it seems. All my hope, all my trust, all my love–it’s all coming to its climax in a week. Easter. Lent makes so much more sense; it’s that bugle cry announcing the Son of David, the voice crying to prepare the way in your life for Christ to enter the Jerusalem of your heart.

Something huge is about to happen.

I didn’t think I’d cry. I’ve been going to Palm Sunday Mass all my life. It was always full of anticipation, but never like this.

It never really hit me that when I say, “Crucify him!’, I’m just doing the same thing I do every time I sin.

No. Worse.

I drive the nails into His hands with my own.

I take the whip to his blameless back, as if it weren’t about to carry the weight of the world.

I thrust the cross in His face and mock Him for embracing it.

And all the while, He prays, “Father, forgive them…forgive him…”

And all I can see are the tears streaming down Mary’s face…and I cry because I’m begging her to forgive me for doing this to her Son…

Pay attention.

I don’t have much to give you this Lent, Lord. Somehow these weeks seem to have flown by without my noticing; the little I’ve done to prepare feels so ridiculously inadequate now. All I have is this cloak and this palm branch.

So I lay them down now, and ask You to let me walk with You to Your cross.

Pay attention. Something huge is about to happen.

Unsafe, Undone, Unquestionably Loved

God often teaches us deep truths through some pretty odd yet magnificent, if occasionally (or frequently) painful, ways. I think He’s been doing a little bit of that the past few weeks. And months. And years…Funny how it’s only now that I’m seeing some of them unfold.

First, a true fix to any problem is never immediate; it’s slow, gradual, and intimate. This past week, I was inducted (FINALLY) into my household, called Fishers of Men, and I have grown so incredibly close to my brothers and love them dearly. I honestly cannot express how very dear they are to my heart and how blessed I am to call them my brothers. Yet the anxiety over whether I am truly accepted, the dark memories of past failed friendships–in short, all the things that originally held me back–though lessened, continue to haunt me. Even though the past is past, it has made an imprint on my heart that will never be fully erased, or at least not for quite some time; so the Lord seems to be indicating. The healing of my heart is something that will take years to complete, something that the Lord will do in stages through His grace and through those He has placed and will place in my life.

Second, God’s love doesn’t change because of how we feel. Somehow, that’s magnificently freeing: God’s love for me doesn’t depend on my emotions, my actions, my anything. It is wholly and incomprehensibly unconditional. I could go on, but no pen, no page, could ever encapsulate the boundless love of God.

Third, life just sucks sometimes, and you have to look to God for the strength and hope to continue to live and believe you are loved. The crosses I have to carry right now are such that I have to constantly turn to God in prayer just to make it through some days. His love always comes, sometimes as a beautiful encounter with Him, other times just as the next breath in my lungs. But He always comes.

And altogether, I see that God is teaching me that His plan is utterly mysterious, that it’s anything but what we expect, and that it often calls for changes so radical that they bring us to tears, pull us to our knees.

And that’s OK.

Because His will isn’t arbitrary. He isn’t just putting us through things to see us suffer, or with no particular purpose in mind for us. He’s got an end goal in mind for us: Heaven, where we won’t cry any more, we won’t be in pain anymore, we won’t know anything but joy and love and peace. Every trial, every cross, every tear–it’s all a chance to move one step closer to Heaven by trusting in God and letting Him be our strength, by not giving up but living on in hope and courage. He sends His Holy Spirit to us to comfort and strengthen us. He gives us Mary as our mother and intercessor. He gives us His very self in the Sacraments.

His love…it’s just…incomprehensible. And so intimate. I just can’t even say it enough times. Even when I’m shaking violently, or crying profusely, I can’t stop professing His love, because it’s His love that keeps me alive, that comforts me, that gives me hope, that lets me have moments of peace, joy, and happiness.

So if the pain is coming back again, bring it. If it’s the price I pay for loving God and others, it’s worth it.

Intimacy

I’m supposed to write an Honors paper on St. Bonaventure and the Medieval period in general in respect to the idea of intimacy with God, and I’ve spent several unsuccessful hours staring at a blank page, trying to make sense of all my disconnected ideas on the topic. So to feel like I’m actually doing something productive, and maybe to get the juices flowing, I’m just gonna start spilling my thoughts on just that last bit, intimacy with God, right here, and there’s nothing you can do about it! (Sorry, I get sassy when I feel blocked)

Just think about that phrase a moment: “intimacy with God”. Break it down a bit, look just at that first word: “intimacy”. It’s a deliciously loaded word, really; there are so many possible interpretations and connotations. But just look at it as it is, plain and simple. What’s meant by intimacy?

Intimacy is a kind of closeness of persons, a connection that implies a great amount of depth and personal contact. It’s a kind of state, for lack of a better word at the present moment, that is properly paired with well-ordered love, a kind of expression (there’s the word!) of a love which is true and good and deep and personal.

Ok good, definition of terms is out of the way, now let’s look at how things are. Think of a relationship you have that’s intimate. It probably involves the person knowing a great deal about you, but more importantly that person, to an extent, knows you as a person. There’s a connection between the two of you that’s expressed in affectionate ways, whatever that means for your particular relationship, and that closeness, that affection, that personal knowledge–that intimacy–speaks to a deep, loving encounter between persons.

So we’ve got intimacy nailed down and, I hope, separated it from being exclusively connected with sex (though there’s no denying it’s part of sex; I mean, c’mon, when you and your spouse have intercourse, it’s hard not to be close and affectionate). But here’s the crazy thing: that intimacy you have (or will have) with your spouse is nothing compared to the intimacy we are all made for with God.

WHOA. BACK THE TRUCK UP.

That intimacy you have (or will have) with your spouse is nothing compared to the intimacy we are all made for with God.

Think of your favorite love song. Now imagine God singing it to you, except with ten billion times more meaning behind it. Basically, we’ve been created and redeemed by the most hopeless romantic ever to exist. Except He’s not all blather; He continually shows His love, through the blessings we have every day, through our very existence, and through the gift of Himself in the Sacraments. Think about it: God, throughout the Old Testament, was basically dating humanity, until Christ came and took on our very flesh, and His love is so powerful that He died for us. GOD DIED FOR US, PEOPLE. If that’s not ridiculously intimate love, I don’t know what is!!!!!!!

And yet, how many of us act like it’s true? I’m willing to bet most people have read through this with a bit of a cringe, making up excuses like, “Well, he means well, he just doesn’t know what he’s really implying,” or “This sounds so nice, if only it were true,” or “Please, spare me the rainbows and butterflies!” First of all, please show me where I said anything like “rainbows and butterflies”. Second of all, explain to me why something that feels good to hear must automatically be shallow.

Here’s why it sounds so good: it’s what we were made for. St. Augustine realized that when he said, “You have made us for Yourself, Oh God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” God made our very selves, and knows us inside and out. He literally comes to dwell inside us through the Sacraments. He desires for us to be united with Him in the love of the Trinity eternally in Heaven. What part of that isn’t intimate? We ought to have a deep, personal, intimate relationship with the Lord, and He is constantly romancing our hearts through everything He does in our lives, even the things that don’t seem quite so positive.

But here’s why it sounds so off: intimacy is dangerous. To seek intimacy at all is to allow oneself to be vulnerable, and to seek intimacy with God Himself is to be completely and utterly vulnerable, opening up and giving up our very being to the one who made us, who holds us in existence, who has seen every tear we’ve cried, heard every laugh we’ve let out, watched every time we’ve fallen into sin or fallen in pain. It means opening your heart to God’s all-seeing eyes, and letting Him work in your heart, letting Him touch you deeper and closer than any person ever possibly could, and trusting that whatever He does is done out of perfect love.

But I ask you, isn’t it worth it? Isn’t it worth it to have a personal, close relationship with God?

*****************************************************************************************

If you have yet to have a personal encounter with the Lord, know that it can come in many ways, at any time God chooses, if you’re open. If there were only one possible way, it wouldn’t be a very personal encounter at all, would it? Just pray for an opening of your mind and heart to that idea of intimacy with God, and especially ask for the help of the Holy Spirit, who is the bringer of this grace. When you’re ready, don’t waste a second; ask God for a personal encounter with Him, for Him to touch you in a deep , intimate way, to begin a deeper, more personal relationship with Him. And know that He truly desires it, and is waiting, just waiting expectantly, and constantly calling out to you in daily life, for you to have that relationship with Him.

One or two last things: intimate doesn’t always mean emotionally gratifying. If God chooses not to stir you in a way that activates the affective part of you, don’t freak out; He’s doing something else in your heart, something just as beautiful, and even if you don’t see the fruits of it, trust that they’re there.

And last, just a little story: One time, before one of my classes started, I wrote these words on the whiteboard: I see your face in every sunrise,/ the colors of the morning are inside your eyes./ The world awakens to the light of the day./ I look up to the sky and say,/ You’re beautiful. Now I suppose I should have seen it coming, especially since it wasn’t too long before Valentine’s Day, but everyone who walked in kind of chuckled at what I had written and asked why someone had written a love poem on the board before Valentine’s Day had even come. Thing is, those words are the first verse to my favorite Praise and Worship song, “You’re Beautiful” by Phil Wickham. It’s how our relationship with God really ought to be, especially considering the entire song is grounded in both recognition of God in creation and salvation history. Yet even at my school, which is so passionately Catholic, it went unrecognized as an expression of the soul to God. I’m going to  let the song speak for itself, and my fervent prayer tonight is that everyone come to look at God with incredible love and affection and feel His intimate, personal touch in their lives.

Prayer of an Introvert

Speak no more, no more, I beg thee;

another weighty word,

another vessel of steel-cased emotion,

and the scales shall tip to fear,

loathing,

and despair.

 

Grant me a moment more

in this comforting caress

of unspoken words, dreams unimagined,

a stream of potentiality on a canvass of silence

painted in tears of love and loss.

Take me not from this sweet hollow

within,

this forgotten corner of creation

that hums yet faintly

with the musical silence of Eden.

 

And yet,

I see through the mist

in the panes to your stricken heart.

There is a longing,

a cry to balance the scales

as the words begin to spill from your lips

and down your cheeks.

 

Remarkable mystery,

the words cannot touch my fragile mind;

no, they sink

with heavy weight

to my heart,

and I find there an endless vestibule,

a deep chasm waiting for your words

as they pour but a drop

into the infinite awaiting.

 

It is no longer mine to listen,

nor was it ever mine to heal.

All falls into the mantle,

swaddled tenderly

and carried to the heart of Christ.

 

O Mother of Sorrows,

Victorious Queen robed in Eden’s silence,

take me over.

My frail spirit is so little prepared

for all that I must take in.

Take these hands,

take this heart.

Let your Spouse

breathe in me His peace,

that this shuddering frame

may come as Simon to the crosses of others

in holy fear

and loving confidence.

Through the Crucible

A phoenix asked the flames, “Do you delight,

Oh fiery fiend, to lick my chest, to sear

through flesh and bone, to boil blood? Does the light

inside your tendrils glow with pride? A tear

of pain, a mournful torrent–no respite

they offer from your suffocating fumes.

What mortal sin, what monstrous err made I,

to merit burning scarlet for a tomb?”

The blushing flames replied, “If you could see,

Oh tender chick, beyond my ruby walls

into the light which all-envelopes me,

‘twould send thy soul aflight. For shining halls

of resurrection, little is the price

of pain. Let faith be stirred, and hope suffice.”

The Music of Frozen I

Ok so a couple weeks ago I got the chance to see the new Disney movie Frozen. Seriously, such an excellent movie. I wanted to see it another time before writing a post about things I found in it I wanted to talk about and expound on, but having listened to the soundtrack multiple times (and by multiple times I mean literally everyday), I want to at least write one about the music and how it shapes what goes on and brings out the message so much more clearly and what not. Later I’ll write some stuff on the beautiful/amazing themes and messages in the film. Because it truly is beautiful, and should be shared.

Note: This will probably take a couple posts to draw out as much as I want to. Feel free to ignore the next few posts if a study of music doesn’t interest you.

ALSO NOTE: THERE WILL PROBABLY BE SPOILERS. FAIR WARNING. READ NO FURTHER IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN IT YET. THE OPENING SONG ALONE ABSOLUTELY MUST RETAIN ITS SURPRISE FACTOR.

I. Vuelie

So here it is, the opening song. Give it a good listen-to.

It seriously gave me chills. No lie.

And I didn’t understand why until I listened to the second song, The Frozen Heart.

What makes the opening song so amazing is it literally sounds like ice! No wait hear me out. You start with that driving lower line that sounds primordial, organic. It’s like the sound of a thick sheet of ice, that sound when you step on it and you hear it creak and groan all across; you can feel that power under your feet rippling out through what seems so ridiculously firm. Then comes the the higher, harmonized parts, just kind of riding on top of it, floating and flowing with its own power, a more chilling and yet beautiful power. It’s like the winter wind, filled with swirling snowflakes.

From the opening song, you get the “beautiful, powerful, dangerous, cold” of ice, that “magic [that] can’t be controlled”. Right away, we are impressed with the power of ice. It can be so wondrous…and yet so harmful.

This song has a very distinctive theme, but it doesn’t come back again until almost the very end, the moment when Else discovers the secret to controlling her power: love.

Of course there are other themes here to look at, but for now focus on the part that starts at about 1:12. There’s that ice in music form again, but this time it’s not on its own; it’s matched perfectly with a beautiful orchestral accompaniment, a sort of musical framework. It channels the music, orders it. This mimics what is happening in the scene: by choosing to love herself and others, as well as to accept their love for her, Else is able to bring her incredible powers under control, to order them towards what is good, and thus freeing the world–and her own hurting heart–from eternal winter.

Real quick before I end this post: Isn’t the storytelling power of music incredible? This, right here, is why I listen more to musicals than to any other kind of music: they take an already amazing story and use the affective power of music to draw the heart of the story out even further, give it a new level of complexity, and raise the beauty of it beyond anything it could have achieved on its own. Music, my friends, nourishes the soul in a way few things on this Earth can, because it has the capacity to hold in just a few moments, a few vibrations of the air, an immense beauty.

So please excuse this trembling troubadour as he geeks out for awhile at the beauty of this most recent geek-obsession of his. Godspeed, brethren!

Cradled in Winter Winds

Sitting here in a rocking chair, watching the snow fall, I find myself both stunned that a year has come and gone so soon and amazed that everything that happened fit into just one stretch of 365 days.

And I find myself pleased with where I am, but also restless to begin again, to jump in and continue this  amazingly  beautiful pilgrimage of life.

This year has been both stressful and painful. Judging only by that, this year was the worst year of my life, bar none.

But praise God, this year has also been immensely blessed. Looking at all the good and  improvement, it was certainly the most joyful.

Yet neither  sufficiently sums up the journey that was this year. Truth is, I think it is most accurate, all things considered, to say that this year was the most fruitful year of my life. The pain was not just passion, but was transformed by God’s grace to be an instrument of growth, and the joy and blessings were beautiful reminders of His love and mercy.

So I want to start again, and see what else is in store.

But for now, I will simply continue rocking and watch the snow fall, grateful to God and to all those who made this year the most fruitful year of my life.

May God bless you abundantly and make this year fruitful for you all.

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Children Crying at the Garden Gates

Ever have a craving for something without knowing what it is you were craving?

When Adam and Eve sinned, they lost the Garden of Eden. It was an earthly Paradise–no pain, no tears, no sadness at all. No, there was only happiness and an intense intimacy with the Lord. Yet they gave it up, trusting in lies that they might be more than what they were if only they would abandon their Creator. They even gave up the chance to live without the fear or even reality of death. They let sin warp their intellect and will, and pit their emotions against what they knew to be true and good.

And they passed it on to all of us.

We call it original sin, and it stains all our souls. It can be washed away by Baptism, so that we can be brought into God’s grace and have a chance at Heaven. But the effects never go away; we always have to grapple with them.

Even the craving.

Chesterton wrote that in just about every culture, there is a myth or legend of an ancient fall from grace that coincides at least partially with the truth held by Catholics regarding Adam and Eve’s Fall. They didn’t just pass on the sin and suffering. They passed on the remembrance.

We were not made for this world brethren, we were made for life with God, and we once had it. Yet now, here we are, and at our deepest, we know we don’t belong here. We crave Paradise. We all want something more than this world has to offer. We have a faint reminiscence of its music, we can almost taste the beauty, but then all is dark but for the saddest sight: God tearfully ushering broken man and woman from a place they can no longer call their home.

And the cry still echoes down the generations: “When, O God, when will we see your glory? When will we be done with this pilgrimage? When will we fly on wings of grace again?”

The glory of it is, God gives us an answer in Christmas.

When Christ came, God made man, He came to redeem us, to open the gates of Heaven again for us. Because God loves us; the very moment He sent our first parents from the garden, He was promising them salvation, a day when all mankind would have the chance once again at eternal happiness. Except this time, it would be even more splendid; we would literally be with Him, and by grace partake in His divine glory.

But first, the price for our transgressions had to be paid. The cost of the breaking of our covenant with God was death. As a priest once said in a homily, “By justice, we all deserved Hell. But Love couldn’t bear that.”

So Christ, truly God, came and took on our nature, truly man. And he came not as a mighty ruler, but as a tiny babe in a poor stable; He subjected Himself from the very beginning to our frailty, our suffering, our poverty. And so redeemed it.

Brethren, we are promised more than a Garden. We are promised Heaven, a Paradise beyond compare, beyond imagination, beyond comprehension; we are promised a home in the heart of Everlasting Love Himself.

Our crying does not go unheeded by the Lord. He has simply answered it in the most perfect and completely unexpected way.

He has answered our cry for Paradise with Christmas.

Rejoice, for He is with us, and has come to redeem us all!

Follow the Star

I’ve trained my hands to fight the darkness with fireworks. What happens when you run out of parts?

I need more than a burst of light and color; I need the sun.

Christmas isn’t just a nice holiday for me.

It’s my life-breath.

Bob Rice

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