Resurrection vs. Retribution

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Ever since 2006, when I first heard “Picture to Burn” on my local country radio station, I have been a “Swiftie.” Taylor Swift’s songs always resonated with me. However,  I recently started feeling a dissonance between how I saw life and how Taylor saw hers. This dissonance was most profound when I listened to her latest single “Look What You Made Me Do” and watched the music video that debuted on Sunday night. To me, it didn’t sound like Taylor at all aside from a few lines here and there. I know that Taylor has been through a lot in the past few years, but I wondered why she chose to portray herself the way she did in her music video.

“Look What You Made Me Do” starts out with Taylor crawling out of her grave, looking like a zombified version of how she looked in “Out of the Woods,” which was my favorite music video from her thus far. But her face reminded me of Anya Jenkins, who started out as a vengeance demon on Buffy:

anya demon face

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is copyright to Mutant Enemy and 20th Century Fox. Image is used for editorial purposes only.

The prechorus of the song goes: “I got smarter, I got harder in the nick of time. Honey, I rose up from the dead. I do it all the time.” Why did she show herself coming back from the dead as a zombie? I see it as a distorted version of the Resurrection. Zombies, vampires, and other versions of the undead are all dark, perverted types of “resurrections.” To quote Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, she came back wrong.

Taylor has written songs about revenge in the past. But at the same time, she also wrote songs about forgiveness as well. So why does she choose to use revenge now?

A few telling lines from the second verse give the answer: “The world moves on, another day, another drama drama. But not for me, not for me. All I think about is karma.”

I recently read an article from Bishop Robert Barron about the difference between karma and grace. In the most simplistic terms, karma is about retribution. “Do good things and you get good in return. Do bad things and you will suffer.” Taylor is driven by revenge in the hopes that everyone who did her wrong will get what they deserve.

The last significant line in the song is this spoken line and it’s the one that Taylor puts on all her social media: “I’m sorry. The old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Oh. ‘Cause she’s dead.” In the video, this is shown by all of her past selves falling down into a dark chasm, with the new Taylor standing on top of a hill with a giant T behind her.

The old Taylor is definitely dead. But instead of embracing grace and forgiveness, Taylor chose to be the bad guy, bent on revenge and retribution.

Now flip the script and take a look at my life recently. In the past few years, I went through my share of bad dating experiences. I was one guy’s rebound date. I went speed dating, but never really connected with anyone. I even dated someone who turned out to be a narcissist!

But at the same time, I kept writing. I worked on my novel and got to share it with other writers at a couple of conferences. I went to Chicago on my own! My first real grown-up adventure! I have been finding my writing voice, this clear, resonating bell that people can hear and listen to. I learned what forgiveness actually feels like and how to persevere in the face of adversity. In other words, I became stronger.

What gave me my strength? Grace. By rooting myself with God, He gave me strength I never knew I had. Even now, as Hurricane Harvey flees Texas, I have found the strength to overcome the anxiety that was building up within me since the storm hit. Grace is not something that I deserved because I was good. God’s strength was given to me because I needed it. Grace is a gift, one that we need to share with others. Through grace, we find the strength to forgive and renew ourselves. We find the strength to persevere. We die to ourselves and live again through Christ.

“It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20

And grace is the difference between having a personal resurrection and being fueled by the revenge from the death of your reputation.

*mic drop*

The Spiritual Journey of "Out of the Woods"

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Welcome to 2016 everyone! Like most people during this time of year, I want to reflect on the past year and make resolutions for 2016. But since, like most people, I watched Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin Eve in anticipation of the countdown, I got to watch the premiere of Taylor Swift’s latest music video “Out of the Woods.”

Out of all of the videos that Taylor has released from her 1989 album, this is by far my favorite since “Bad Blood.” It takes me back to the Taylor I knew: the Taylor who wore long, beautiful dresses and tried to figure out what love meant. The video itself is reminiscent of a spiritual journey.

It starts out with the words “She lost him” and opens with Taylor standing on the beach in a long light blue dress. As the song begins, a forest starts growing around her. This symbolizes the beginning of a spiritual journey, being led into a seemingly dangerous place where wolves (which could represent opposition or anxiety) and tangling vines (which represents sin) are out to get you at every corner. Day turns to night as Taylor weaves her way through the woods and runs from the wolves and through the tangling thorns. In the chase, she falls and her dress gets torn, representing the first stumbling.

All of a sudden, Taylor is on top of a mountain. The wolves are still chasing her. Taylor rips the necklace she was wearing off and tosses it over the mountain. Then she takes a leap and dives into the ocean below. This represents the second part of the spiritual journey: taking a leap of faith and letting yourself be submerged into an ocean of grace. I also saw her taking the necklace off as letting go of what you used to love in order to immerse yourself into a deeper love.

But just as Taylor is in the ocean, she’s suddenly in a desert. She touches a tree and then finds herself frozen in the middle of an icy forest, running from an avalanche. Both of these can represent spiritual dryness. Spiritual highs don’t last long and the dry periods of spiritual life can either feel as barren as a desert or as cold and bitter as winter. Either way, these dry periods prompt us to reflect and have faith in spite of how we feel.

The bridge of the song finds Taylor crawling through a muddy swamp as vines entangle around her in every different setting. This is the fallen state of grace, when we are covered in sin. Like the vines, sin paralyzes us. But as the song transitions towards the last chorus, little lights surround Taylor and even though she keeps getting thrown down and finds herself surrounded by fire, the vines don’t try to entangle her anymore. Instead, she gets up and gets out of the woods. The music video ends with Taylor back at the beach as the forest disappears behind her. Her dress is shorter, but her eyes are so much wiser. She sees her old self looking out into the ocean and reaches out to touch her.

Then these words flash on the screen: “She lost him but she found herself and somehow that was everything.”

The last part of the music video to me represents the sense of renewal which leads to finding the best version of yourself again. You return to where you started because God draws straight with crooked lines.

Fellow Swifties will recognize the words from the end of the video as the secret message from the song “Clean.” In a way, this message combined with the music video basically describes what 2015 was to me. I didn’t lose a person so much as ideas on what I thought my life should’ve been. I met with a lot of disappointments in 2015. And yet, through my own spiritual journey, I found myself again. I let go of all of my preconceptions on how things were “supposed to be” and took a leap of faith, entering into this new life where nothing’s quite as certain, and yet my faith and trust in God remain constant.

And somehow, that faith and trust was everything. It led to me making new friends. It helped me to grow as a writer. Most surprisingly of all, I became a more forgiving and hopeful person.

It’s hard for me to choose one word that will be my constant throughout 2016. Mercy is a good contender since this is the Year of Mercy. I’m reading Mother Teresa’s Come Be My Light, so light is also a potential word. I’m still on this spiritual journey towards finding my vocation, which makes the word “direction” quite appealing. However, what resonates the most with me right now is love. Bishop Robert Barron said that “Mercy is what the Divine Love looks like when turned towards the sinner.” Mother Teresa was called to be a light of love to the streets of Calcutta. And in this journey that I’m taking, I feel like love will be what will lead me to wherever I end up next.

I don’t just mean romantic love, although I find myself longing for that more than usual. I also want to learn how to balance love of God and love for myself in a healthy way. To be humble but at the same time be self-assured and hold my ground to protect myself from creeps and devils. “Love” also applies to my writing. I want to finish all of my writing projects, pour my love into every single word and share that love with the world. Most of all, I want to be able to get past my cynicism and be able to love my neighbor and see the best in them.

So here are some questions for you: Where are you on your spiritual journey right now? What do you think is your word for 2016?

I pray that God will help lead you out of whatever woods you happen to find yourself in. Happy New Year everyone!

Screenshots from “Out of the Woods” are copyright to Big Machine Records, Taylor Swift, and Joseph Kahn and are used for editorial purposes only.

The Journey Begins: Advent Week 2, Day 1

 

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The second candle on the Advent Wreath is called “The Bethlehem Candle” and symbolizes faith. Today, I want to contemplate the faith of Mary and Joseph as they journeyed to Bethlehem.

If you’re familiar with Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey,” there’s a point in the story where the heroes are asked to answer “the call to adventure.” Think of when Bilbo was asked by Gandalf to journey with the dwarves in The Hobbit or when Luke Skywalker was asked to undergo Jedi training with Obi-Wan Kenobi. For Mary and Joseph, the call to adventure began with Caesar calling for a census. This census required everyone to go to the land of their ancestors. Since Joseph was descended from the House of David, it meant taking the 69 mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. It’s not an easy journey to take even now. A quick Google Maps search says that the time to reach Bethlehem to Nazareth now would take at least 9 hours on a bus or train. But since Mary and Joseph were travelling on foot (with Mary riding on a donkey), which meant that their journey would be a lot longer.

I can’t help but admire the faith Mary and Joseph must’ve had as they took this journey. They didn’t know when the baby was coming. They weren’t sure if they were going to find a place to stay when they got to Bethlehem. On top of that, they were given the task of being the parents of the Messiah. In spite of all the weight of this responsibility and uncertainty, they took this journey.

Do you feel like God is calling you to take on a journey of your own? What’s stopping you from answering the call?

Nothing in this life is certain, but as I’ve said before, nothing safe is worth the drive. When you feel like God is calling you to make a change, ask him to light your path and to guide you along the way. He will always be with you.

 

Gratitude in Everything

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From Heart of Mary Women’s Fellowship:

If you ever find yourself at a time when the attitude of gratitude is just not coming to you, come back to these reflections. There is always a time to find gratitude, even after we acknowledge all the negative emotions that come into our lives. As strange as that sounds, we can even be happy during the times we also feel sad or angry or lonely. The happiness I’m talking about isn’t the excited, bounce-around-the-walls kind of happiness a five-year old has. It’s a softer kind, one rooted in hope for better things. It’s not as bright as the sun, but more like the soft glow of a beautiful star or a small fire. Hope comes to you when it doesn’t really make any sense to have it because that’s when you need it most. Through living with gratitude, we cultivate hope, which nurtures our faith and our love.

Read the rest here!

The Imitation of Mary in the 21st Century

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Today is the feast of the birth of Mary. Something I remember from my Catholic school days is something called The Imitation of Mary. It’s an actual book by Thomas A. Kempis, but the idea of imitating Mary is honestly intimidating. She was born without sin and she has so many miracles attributed to her. How the heck are we ordinary, flawed, imperfect humans supposed to be anything like her?

It starts by remembering that aside from being born without sin, Mary was just as human as the rest of us. She felt pain, she felt fear, she felt loss just like the rest of us. She was a mother and a wife and a daughter and a cousin. I imagine her as a short and sassy woman who wasn’t picture-perfect in looks, but still beautiful in heart. Once we remember that Mary (and the rest of the saints) are as human as the rest of us, it helps us on the path of relating to her and imitating her.

One way that we can imitate Mary is to practice The 10 Virtues of Mary. This list was written by St. Louis de Montfort. They are as follows:

The 10 Virtues of Mary

  1. Ardent Charity: Letting her love for God be the driving force behind every decision
  2. Profound Humility: Knowing who she is before God, nothing more and nothing less
  3. Universal Mortification: Seeking to lay down her life and her will at every moment
  4. Constant Mental Prayer: Always being aware of God’s presence
  5. Blind Obedience: Following God’s call without counting the cost
  6. Divine Wisdom: Always begging for God’s Spirit to guide her
  7. Surpassing Purity: Having a heart immaculately clean and unstained by sin
  8. Angelic Sweetness: Radiating joy and peace to everyone she encountered
  9. Lively Faith: Constantly seeking God’s will and never settling for complacency
  10. Heroic Patience: Always trusting that God was on the move; having more faith in His plans than her own

(Thanks to LifeTeen for introducing me to this list!)

The list seems daunting at first because we struggle with humility and patience. Not all of us see ourselves as sweet or wise or charitable. Being obedient is scary because we’re so used to asking questions about everything and being mortified is equally frightening because we are so used to doing what we want.

But there are real-life examples of people practicing these virtues. They may not have all these virtues, but if we start with imitating one, it takes us that much closer to becoming like a saint. So let’s break down these virtues and see how people of the 21st century can live them.

1. Ardent Charity: Letting our love for God be the driving force behind every decision. 

We may not always make the best decisions for the right reasons. Everyone always seems to have an ulterior motive for their actions, some kind of personal gain. But when we put God first in our decision making, we can give our hearts into our actions freely, even when we don’t stand to gain anything from doing something.

I can’t help but think of Saint John Paul II when I think of this virtue. He was a great example of someone who was driven by love. He lived his life with a great devotion to Jesus and Mary and he showed his love to the world, even to the communists who dictated his homeland and the assassin who shot him. All of his actions were motivated by unconditional love, acting with great justice and mercy. Communism fell thanks to his influence and a whole generation of people are inspired by his actions.

2. Profound Humility: Knowing who we are before God, nothing more and nothing less.

Humility is a balancing act. On the one hand, we can’t be divas and think that we’re special snowflakes entitled to whatever we want just because we want it. On the other hand, we can’t go around acting like emo kids who think that we’re worthless wastes of space. Humility is knowing your own value and understanding that you don’t need anyone else’s approval or love outside of God’s.

There are two instances that come to mind when I think of having humility. A good example from fiction can be seen in the ABC series Agent Carter, in which the titular character goes through many instances of personal humiliation as she tries to clear Howard Stark’s name. She loses her job, her apartment, and almost loses her friends, but manages to save the day in the end. When Agent Thompson ends up taking the credit, she doesn’t speak out against his lie or beg for approval. She says outright: “I know my value. Anyone else’s opinion doesn’t really matter.”

Another example is found in one of my favorite songs “He Knows My Name” by Francesca Battistelli. In a behind the scenes video, Francesca says that the song came from her struggles of believing what other people think of her, for better and for worse. The song itself tells the story of a person who sees herself as less than perfect, but at the same time, knows that God is calling her to live for Him and marvels in the love that God has for her. The music video shows four women who’ve all had hardships in life and overcame them through God’s help and have turned their lives around for the better.

3. Universal Mortification: Seeking to lay down her life and her will at every moment

You wanna know why Police Lives Matter alongside Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter? Because the true job of a cop, of a soldier, of anyone who works in public service is to be willing to lay down their lives for the ones that they love. The duty of all public servants is to protect and serve everyone, even to those who hate them. Deputy Sheriff Darren Goforth is being honored in Houston for the life that he lived. The fact that there hasn’t been any reports of violence in retaliation to his death says a lot about everyone else as well. Like public servants, the people who are honoring Darren Goforth’s death are laying down their desires to seek vengeance. Instead of rioting, the people are rallying, asking the world to “Love Thy Neighbor.” I wish other cities can learn from this.

4. Constant Mental Prayer: Being Aware of God’s Presence

Something I recently learned is that we take the Holy Spirit with us wherever we go and in whatever we do. It’s not always easy because there are times that we wish God was far away or we don’t feel like he’s there when we need him. But like that infamous Footprints poem, God is there carrying us through the hard times.

Stephen Colbert, who is going to start his stint at late night network comedy tonight, had an interview with GQ Magazine in which he talked about how God was constantly present in his life. He was grateful for the losses that he endured as a child, first by losing his father and brothers in a plane crash and then losing his mother later in life.

“I was left alone a lot after Dad and the boys died…. And it was just me and Mom for a long time,” he said. “And by her example am I not bitter. Byher example. She was not. Broken, yes. Bitter, no.” Maybe, he said, she had to be that for him. He has said this before—that even in those days of unremitting grief, she drew on her faith that the only way to not be swallowed by sorrow, to in fact recognize that our sorrow is inseparable from our joy, is to always understand our suffering, ourselves, in the light of eternity. What is this in the light of eternity? Imagine being a parent so filled with your own pain, and yet still being able to pass that on to your son.

“It was a very healthy reciprocal acceptance of suffering,” he said. “Which does not mean being defeated by suffering. Acceptance is not defeat. Acceptance is just awareness.” He smiled in anticipation of the callback: “ ‘You gotta learn to love the bomb,’ ” he said. “Boy, did I have a bomb when I was 10. That was quite an explosion. And I learned to love it. So that’s why. Maybe, I don’t know. That might be why you don’t see me as someone angry and working out my demons onstage. It’s that I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.”

I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.

I asked him if he could help me understand that better, and he described a letter from Tolkien in response to a priest who had questioned whether Tolkien’s mythos was sufficiently doctrinaire, since it treated death not as a punishment for the sin of the fall but as a gift. “Tolkien says, in a letter back: ‘What punishments of God are not gifts?’ ” Colbert knocked his knuckles on the table. “ ‘What punishments of God are not gifts?’ ” he said again. His eyes were filled with tears. “So it would be ungrateful not to take everything with gratitude. It doesn’t mean you want it. I can hold both of those ideas in my head.”

He was 35, he said, before he could really feel the truth of that. He was walking down the street, and it “stopped me dead. I went, ‘Oh, I’m grateful. Oh, I feel terrible.’ I felt so guilty to be grateful. But I knew it was true.

“It’s not the same thing as wanting it to have happened,” he said. “But you can’t change everything about the world. You certainly can’t change things that have already happened.”

Consider that this is coming from a man who millions of people will soon watch on their televisions every night—if only there were a way to measure the virality of this, which he’ll never say on TV, I imagine, but which, as far as I can tell, he practices every waking minute of his life.

5. Blind Obedience: Following God’s call without counting the cost.

There’s something about doing what someone says without asking questions that scares me. It calls to mind a hell that consists of shades of grey, military dictatorships, Big Brother. UGH! No thank you!

The difference between that kind of obedience and following God’s will without counting the cost is that God does allow us to ask questions. In the Annunciation, Mary was initially confused at the angel’s greeting and asked “How can this be? I have known no man.” Gabriel gives Mary an explanation and proof of God’s power. After receiving that explanation, Mary accepts God’s will. If we were in Mary’s place, we’d probably ask more questions, to be honest, but God gives us enough knowledge to help us understand the present because the future is in His hands.

One example of this is from the soon to be Bishop Robert Barron, whose ordination into bishophood takes place today. He posted a video explaining his coat of arms.

One particular thing I love about his coat of arms is the motto he chose: Non nisi te Domine. The motto came from Thomas Aquinas who said this to God after presenting his works on the Eucharist in a private altar. Bishop-Elect Robert Barron said “If you have Christ, then you know what to do with the wealth, pleasure, power, and honor that come your way or you’ll know what to do with the lack of wealth, pleasure, power and honor which is why the one thing you should ask for is Christ himself.” As someone who’s also an Aquinas fangirl, I can’t help but totally agree with him.

Follow me on the next page to learn about how we can practice wisdom, purity, sweetness, faith, and patience in our lives.

Reach Out to The Truth! – The Last Night of Cafe Catholica

The best people in life for free.

The best people in life for free.

 

If there’s anything I learned from my last night at Cafe Catholica, it was that appearances can be deceiving and truth is something that doesn’t come in an easily appealing package. Nevertheless, we must always reach out to the truth because we find the beauty and goodness hidden within it.

The first reading from last night is a classic case of idolatry in the face of fear. The Gospel doesn’t seem like it relates to the first reading because it was just about parables. The priest who celebrated Mass last night said in his homily that from the outside, the Kingdom of God looks boring because it can’t be contained. It liberates us from earthly attachments. When the Isrealites were faced with the quiet mountain instead of the show of light and fire from Mount Sinai, they forgot everything that God did for them and turned to an idol instead. It should be noted btw, that I wasn’t exactly laughing when the priest re-told the scene from the reading where Aaron said “We just put the gold in the fire and the calf came out of it.” I get that it’s supposed to be a joke, but I don’t find it funny. A lot of others in the church did, though.

The priest said that we are no better than the Israelites. We forget the way the Lord has transformed us and the works of God that we see in our everyday lives. Instead we seek emotional highs. Wasn’t there a Blimey Cow video or two about that?

And they also did an awesome video about idolatry as well.

I think my favorite part of the homily, though, was when the priest said how he wished the Kingdom of God was more like the battle of Mordor. I genuinely laughed at that part because if you want an epic battle, wait for the apocalypse. The truth is, he said, that the Kingdom of God is less interesting than an epic battle. It comes disguised in the ordinary. Here’s how I would compare it.

We wish that the Kingdom of God was like that excited, energetic kind of happiness we feel during our birthday or the holidays or when it’s easy to celebrate. In real life, the Kingdom of God is more like a warm glow, a soft candle light burning in the night. The Kingdom of God isn’t so much like a huge bombastic rock concert as it is more like a choir singing in harmony sometimes and having a random jam session the rest of the time. It’s a hidden treasure and it’s worth finding.

The lecture last night was a lesson in apologetics. The guest speaker, Dr. Christopher Kaczor, talked about the 7 Big Myths About the Catholic Church. He focused on myths believed by secular society and the common theme about all of them is that the world perceives the Catholic Church as an embodiment of hate: It hates science, women, happiness, gays, gay marriage, children (because of the sex abuse scandals) and love (because of its opposition to contraception).

The truth, of course, is that the Catholic Church is a church of authentic love. The Church embraces a relationship between faith and reason. Many of the biggest names in scientific history are Catholic. I also learned that many cathedrals in Europe also functioned as solar observatories. The Church loves women. (Hello, Mary Queen of Heaven and Earth!?) The Church takes care of the world by serving people in need, therefore making billions of people worldwide happy here on Earth. We also teach about forgiveness, the dangers of greed, and gratitude. We celebrate a thanksgiving with every Eucharist.

We love everyone without exception, but that love doesn’t come in the form of just being nice all the time. I can’t speak for all Catholics, but know that when it comes to the LGBT community, most Catholics are trying to understand it. We are not being bigots when we say that we oppose gay marriage. We just want people to understand that there is a more authentic love out there. No the Church is not always nice. But as they say in Into the Woods “Nice is different than good.”

If there’s one myth/cliche that I hate seeing in TV is the pedophilic/evil priest because while there are issues with that going on in the Church, the world wants to make everyone think that all priests are perverts with issues. That is so so far from the truth. There is no relation between abuse and celibacy. There are also other kinds of people who do the exact same thing but don’t get the same attention. I always believe in speaking well of others and like to see the good in people. I wish more people could do the same and be forgiving about this. You can’t dismiss an entire religion for the actions of a few.

The truth is that the Church loves children and the family. Children are a source of joy and help us to be more grateful. They help us to grow in humility and teach us the value of life and give it meaning again.

The best thing I got out of Cafe Catholica overall were all the new experiences. I sang in a choir. I made new friends. I had a major boost in my social life in the form of hanging out with my new friends. I learned new songs. I learned to be brave and take risks. I learned to find happiness in setbacks. I learned to not be afraid. I learned to move on from my past. I learned to value myself. I didn’t learn these things from any one homily or something a guest lecturer said, but from all of these experiences. I learned these new things by doing them.

If there’s one thing I want to say to anyone who wants to be more involved with their diocese, I highly recommend volunteering for events like this. Take a chance and try something new, like singing in the choir or being a lector at your parish. Be a Catechist or part of youth ministry. You never know where these wonderful new things will take you.

 

Are We Out of the Woods Yet?

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One quote from Buffy the Vampire the Slayer that resonates with me comes from the Season 5 finale “The Gift”:

The hardest thing in this world is to live in it. Be brave. Live.

Season 6 of Buffy was themed around the idea of life becoming the Big Bad. As angsty and heartwrenching as it sounds, Whedon got it right. Going to extremes feels easy because of the high-risk, high-reward gamble. We all jump at the chance to do the extraordinary. We live for the celebration of special occasions.

But ordinary life? Ordinary Time? The daily grind, especially when faced with an uncertain future? That’s hard. It’s hard to just live from day to day if your life is surrounded by uncertainty or sadness or anxiety. There are times in life where it feels like you’re driving down a highway at night with just the headlights showing the next 200 feet. Or you’re wandering around the woods and the trees look like monsters. Or you feel like there’s nothing but fog and rain and no sunlight at all. How do you find your way out?

“We walk by faith and not by sight.” – 2 Corinthians 5:7

There will be times in your life that God calls us to completely surrender yourselves, your lives, and everything in it to Him. Your faith will be tested. It’s during these times that you need to fully rely on God. It’s not an easy thing to do. I know it’s not for me, given that there are a million things in this life that I don’t know for sure.

What I know for sure is that if I didn’t have my faith in God and if I didn’t trust him,  I would just be an empty shell of the woman I am now. In spite of the darkness, the woods, and the fog, God is always with us, leading us out. But sometimes, as I’ve been learning in Vacation Bible School, he just wants us to hold on. As in hold on to Him. Rely on Him. Fully surrender ourselves to Him.

There are so many songs that talk about walking by faith, but one of my favorites is Audrey Assad’s “Lead Kindly Light,” based on a prayer by John Henry Newman.

I pray that no matter what’s going on in your life today, you are taking that first step in faith, trusting in God, and handing everything over to Him.

Existentialism, Choices, and Discerning God's Will

One verse I keep seeing a lot lately in my social media is Jeremiah 29: 11

“For I know well the plans I have in mind for you—says the Lord—plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope.”

I’ve lamented before that I always wish that I knew what exactly those plans were. But some discussions with my friends have given me some perspective on God’s will.

My friend Justin recently made this video:

At first, I felt like this video was bordering on existentialist. If taken the wrong way, the idea that God doesn’t exactly have a great big master plan for every person makes it seem like He is indifferent. But of course, I know otherwise. God is not indifferent,

So I asked Justin some follow-up questions and here’s what he had to say:

If God doesn’t really have a grand master plan, how can you prove His omniscience?
Just like we know that the sun will rise tomorrow and can study everything about its orbit but don’t actually control the sun, so also is it with God. God knows everything we will choose, but He isn’t the one dictating our choices.
 
How would you explain divine intervention?
God intervenes when He sees fit, but other times He expects us to live according to our conscience and free will. 
Explain the Felix Culpa
The happy fault of Adam and Eve that resulted in the coming of Christ was an example of God turning something bad into something good. Of course, this is what often happens in life. When we make a terrible decision, God always gives us opportunities to alter the consequences of our actions, but that doesn’t negate the fact that the bad decision has already been made.
He already has plans on making a follow-up video which I plan to share on here as soon as it’s uploaded.
I am also reminded of a conversation I had with one of my college friends. I lamented to him about my discernment issues and he said:
Maybe he’s waiting to see what you have planned.
I think your vocation is your actualizing your own deepest desire and living it out in the world. So instead of asking God what do you want me to do? Or how are you going to lead me to my destiny? Etc. I think the silence we often experience with those sorts of prayers is really an invitation to reverse the questions. Don’t ask God anything except for the strength and purity of heart to be deeply honest with yourself and then ask yourself, What do I really want? Then you can explore that for awhile. And once you get some clarity you can start asking how you can make that dream come true. I don’t believe God makes any of these things happen for us. Don’t get me wrong I’m not denying grace or providence I just don’t think these realities work the way we often think they do. It’s much more up to us than we’re usually comfortable to accept. We have to choose and then do something about it. God gives us the strength to do it but it’s up to us. I think.

Having free will is a great power that comes with great responsibility. The temptation of existentialism is to believe that the universe is indifferent and that we have to make a choice or else life doesn’t have any meaning. God always allows us to make choices, but one wonderful part of having faith is that we can turn to Him and ask for His help in making our choices. Stanley Kubrick said that in spite of the darkness, we must create our own light. Thankfully for people who have faith, God supplies the light and we reflect and refract it into the world. 

God is the author of our lives. We have the power to choose what we want to do with our lives. What results from those choices, I think, becomes our vocation. It took me a long time for me to realize this but vocation isn’t just a lifestyle choice, but a daily process of choices we make in order to become as holy as we can be.

So even though a certain atheist/absurdist writer wrote this quote as sort of an existentialist manifesto, I look at this quote and think about how balancing our free will with our faith ultimately makes us stronger:

So here’s the part where you make a choice. What if you could have that power, now? In every generation, one Slayer is born, because a bunch of men who died thousands of years ago made up that rule. They were powerful men. This woman is more powerful than all of them combined. So I say we change the rule. I say my power, should be *our* power. Tomorrow, Willow will use the essence of this scythe to change our destiny. From now on, every girl in the world who might be a Slayer, will be a Slayer. Every girl who could have the power, will have the power. Can stand up, will stand up. Slayers, every one of us. Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong?

My answer is “Yes.” The choice is yours.

Authentic Love Part 2: Faith Rooted in Religion

It started with a comment. I shared a short version of rejections I experienced on the Facebook page of a nondenominational Protestant who was looking for stories about rejection.

Then somebody replied to my comment:
“Just remember that it’s by faith and not religion that we feel God’s love.”

Cue flashbacks of the usual “I’m spiritual, but not religious” anthem that I hear from a lot of people. And a facepalm.

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I shared this incident with my friends who had this to say.

Olivier Coutant: On the one hand, yes, the speaker forgets that religion is the lived out expression of our faith. I also think there’s something to what that speaker said! It can be a temptation for us to get wrapped up in our pious acts and forget that our faith (our relationship with Christ) is what it’s all about.

Tristan Rios: Notice how they say “feel”. If you want to troll, maybe say, “Feel? I thought love was an action, not a feeling.” Just to kind of comment on how protestants and specifically non-denoms are overly emotional. All about the “feel good.”

Suzanne Fortin: Jesus instituted a religion: Baptism, Eucharist, laying of hands. These are always ways of feeling God’s love.

Brandon Ocampo (No relation to me): Faith in practice is religion. It’s the ultimate relationship. Where we follow His boundaries and rules to improve our relationship with Him. I might not always feel God in a pretty song, but I might feel Him by following the law. He has set forth. Jesus > Religion? Nah son. Jesus came to establish a religion. Jesus was religious. If you condemn religion, you condemn Christ. That’s not a bright move.

Rachel GohlmanOne can say “I have faith” great, even the demons believe! In fact the devils may have more faith than we do because they know it’s all real. What constitutes religion is not only saying you believe in God, but also showing it through devotions and acts of prayer. Our main way of prayer always has been the Mass and it’s not just a series of empty gestures. If anyone says it is so then ask why do people send flowers to someone they love, or write songs or take them out on picnic. Love demands action. It demands expression. This is the complement that religion gives faith.

I also would like to point out that religion is manifest in the love we give to our neighbor, in addition to the love we give to God. If a person keeps faith to themselves, there is a risk for self-assurance, an “us and them” attitude that characterizes the pharisee. By being the outward display of faith, religion obliges us to carry Christ out into the world. This is what James means when he says “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27
Therefore religion has always been part of Scripture faith. It has always been the “works” that goes along with faith. Neither by themselves save you as faith without works is dead and religion without faith is empty humanism.

While I’m not gonna respond to the comment because I don’t like starting a combox war, I will say this:

Experiencing God’s love relies on more than just feeling it. Having faith in God has to be rooted in something a lot more solid than feelings. Faith is not a feeling, after all.

Religion, and especially Catholicism, can seem particularly daunting because there seem to be so many rules. But if anything provides that tangibility of God’s love, I think it comes in the form of being Catholic.

Catholics get to see Christ present in the Eucharist.

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We smell the incense that symbolizes our prayers rising up to Heaven.

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We feel the Holy Water as we dip our fingers into the font and are reminded of when we were baptised, either as babies or at Easter Vigil after weeks of RCIA classes.

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We hear the prayers that remind us of what we believe in.

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We taste the Body and the Blood every Sunday.

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And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

God’s authentic love is manifested in having faith, but that faith is best grown when it’s rooted in a strong foundation.

All images except for one are courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. I took the photo of the Eucharist displayed in the monstrance.

Jesus, I Trust in You! Help My Unbelief!

One of the many devotions I gained in my college years was a love for the Divine Mercy Chaplet. This is also the first year that I finally prayed the Divine Mercy Novena all the way through. (Thank you Pray More Novenas!)

I don’t know if it’s just me or if other cradle Catholics have this problem (or heck, even Christians in general), but I always feel like it’s one thing to believe in the core values and all the doctrines of Catholicism, but it’s another thing to have faith that God is actually a part of our lives in every moment. Many people ask for God’s providence in times of crisis, but often forget to ask for His help in our daily lives. Yes, there are people who pray their Morning Offerings, myself included. But there are a lot of areas I feel a lot of doubt about.

It’s not just about my everyday problems like finding a full-time job or having some semblance of a social life outside of the internet. I also struggle with a lot of loneliness. Although I consider myself to be an introverted person, I still want someone that I can talk to about anything and yet also “be” with without having the need to talk. I also want that same person to watch my favorite shows with me and cry and laugh with me, or at least understand what I’m feeling. I always forget, during those times that I wish for someone, that Jesus is always there to listen. I love Him, I really do, but it’s not the same as having the physical presence of a person, hearing someone’s voice, and sharing moments with a person.

I also struggle with a lot of self-doubt, mostly about said lack of job and love life. Although I still long for companionship, I also have doubts of finding anyone who fits those longings. I struggle with basic conversation sometimes because of my social awkwardness. Sometimes, I don’t see myself as beautiful or even pretty, just average. Again, it just comes from a lot of times in my life when I felt like Eponine, always on my own and never getting the guy.

We all like to make fun of Doubting Thomas, who will never live down his moment of unbelief. But I’m probably right there with him, refusing to believe until I see proof. My intuition and emotions have often been wrong, so I constantly ask God to prove to me that He is listening. Except, I act more like an entitled brat, expecting God to grant my wishes and dreams. I know better than that, and yet I still do it. I’m pretty sure a lot of you can relate.

I’m not saying all this because I feel like whining and complaining about #firstworldproblems. I’m just saying that faith isn’t just about believing in a bunch of doctrines, traditions, and Sacred Scripture. It’s about trust. It’s about putting your trust in your faith. It’s during these times of doubt and loneliness that I turn to God more than ever. This is where the Divine Mercy Chaplet comes in.

If there is any word that I can use to describe Saint Faustina, it would be “Trust.” She trusted in God when it came to her vocation. But that was just the beginning of her story. She trusted in God implicitly when she began receiving visions, in spite of other sisters in her order being dismissive of her. How she lived with such bitchiness, I will never know.

Whenever I pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet, I usually pray it as an intercession for others. But whenever I listen and sing along to the song version (either on EWTN TV or EWTN Radio), I slow down in praying it and really feel the prayer on a different level. I ask God for His mercy and offer up my loneliness. The words “I Trust in You” start to resonate in me. And even though I don’t feel the trust right now, I have a glimmer of it. And sometimes, that’s enough.