Christ Crucified

Preparing for Lent

I hate Lent. I always have. To me, it’s always been a time when I meant to do so much more than I ever achieved and Easter came leaving me feeling like I didn’t deserve it. I hadn’t prepared my soul and I did the fasting and the praying and the mourning with a grumbling heart. For me, Lent was always a time for self-denial, and I couldn’t see past the sacrifice. However, the more I try to understand love, the more I’m realizing that Lent could be so so so much more than I’m giving it credit for.

It could be resplendent.

The key is engaging my heart, understanding the love behind the sacrifice, and I believe the key to that is taking the time to prepare for Lent before Ash Wednesday so that I can be ready to accept the hard stuff with grace. This is the first year I’ve tried this, and also the first year I’ve tried something besides giving up a favorite treat or my snooze button or praying a decade of the rosary every day. (While these are all good things, they didn’t get me anywhere closer to Christ, which I believe to be the point of Lent).

This year I’ve invested in two books, both which offer daily meditations specifically for Lent, focusing on two different aspects of God and our faith. Shoutout to The Littlest Way for the recommendations! I also learned that the St. Louis de Monfort preparation for Marian Consecration starts on February 21st, and after some prayer I’ve made the decision to do that as well.

Anyway, I figured that now would be a good time to start preparing for Lent, as it’s only a week and a half away. I read the introductions to both books and the preparation (I’ve chosen to do Fr. Michael Gaitley’s 33 Days to Morning Glory instead of the traditional preparation), and I have to say that for the first time in my life, I’m excited for Lent.

From Rediscover Lent by Mathew Kelly:

My favorite passage from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) appears as the first line of the first chapter, and it reads, “The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for” (CCC #1).

God never ceases to draw man to himself. So. Beautiful.

From Reflections on the Passion by Charles Hugo Doyle:

LOVE moves and governs all things. Tell me what you love, and I shall tell you what you are. If your love is for the world, you are its slave. If your love is for Jesus Christ, you are free…

Jesus Christ alone is worthy of your whole heart. But you cannot love Him if you do not know Him…We must know the details of His sufferings, if we would know the excess of His love.

Jesus Christ ALONE is worthy of your whole heart. Often I get frustrated about not feeling love, not being at peace or passionate about Christ. I feel lukewarm. But how am I supposed to love Him if I do not know Him? Really, truly love Him?

From 33 Days to Morning Glory by Fr. Michael E. Gaitley, MIC:

So, it’s Mary’s great God-given task, in union with and by the power of the Holy Spirit, to form every human being into “another Christ,”…Therefore, every human being is invited to rest in the womb of Mary and be transformed there, by the power of the Holy Spirit, more perfectly into Christ’s image.

In other words, as Ven. Fulton Sheen so powerfully puts it:

Can you not see that if Christ Himself willed to be physically formed in [Mary] for nine months and then be spiritually formed by her for 30 years, it is to her that we must go to learn how to have Christ formed in us?

Only she who raised Christ can raise a Christian.

Only she who raised Christ can raise a Christian.

BOOM. MARY. JESUS. LENT.

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On The Weight Of Glory – Part 2

Last time I left off, C.S. Lewis was saying that mankind, in general, was far too easily pleased, with misplaced and essentially weak desires. You can read the first part here. I’ve omitted a small excerpt talking about proper rewards. If you want to read the entire chapter, you can do so here.

Now, if we are made for heaven, the desire for our proper place will be already in us, but not yet attached to the true object, and will even appear as the rival of that object…

…If a transtemporal, transfinite good is our real destiny, then any other good on which our desire fixes must be in some degree fallacious, must bear at best only a symbolical relation to what will truly satisfy.

In speaking of this desire for our own far-off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you – the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both.

We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name.

 

This week has been a struggle. I haven’t felt like writing, or praying, or doing anything really, and as a result I just keep getting more exhausted, making more excuses, and being more sad. I’m remembering all of the nights like these when my mom would make me hot cocoa and we’d stay up late and talk. I’m thinking about how much she loved this song and this scent and this movie. I’m frustrated when my work suffers because I can’t concentrate.

C.S. Lewis is always my fall-back, and with excerpts like this, it’s no wonder why. It is my desire for good which makes me want my mom back. But I always fail to remember that the good is in the future, not the past. This desire for good has manifested in my mind as my desire for my mother because I believe that she was one of the closest things in my experience to Heaven. And my tiny human brain just assumes that those memories were the real thing when they were only a sample, a symbol – fallacious to a degree.

My real desire for happiness, for joy, for peace, for my mother, is in the glory of eternal life. And as long as I am fixated on the past, on my own grief or self-pity, I will never get there. I must remember that this is but a journey, a sea voyage, and if I fall in love with the boat I’ll never reach land.

This, too, shall pass.

Note: Everyone has experienced loss, frustration, disappointment, and grief, and I am no different. My life is no longer about me losing, it isn’t about “poor Mariah,” this is about me recovering from years of forgetting how to love. Only then can I heal.

Severus Snape: A Tribute

The death of Alan Rickman saddened me more than I would’ve ever expected from a person I have never met. I was, in fact, a little embarrassed that the news made me cry, but after I figured out why I was feeling that way, it seemed completely natural.

First, I recently lost my mother to cancer, and now the word makes me feel so much both for the people who must suffer through it and for the family who must watch. It is a vile disease that steals a person’s body away, but it is also a disease that brings about more love, understanding and true character than any other I have witnessed.

Second, Alan Rickman did his job remarkably well. So much so, that every time I saw him on screen I fell in love: I personally identified with Alexander Dane, I was captivated by Elliot Marston, I wanted to be wooed by Colonel Christoper Brandon, and, of course, I was madly in love with Professor Severus Snape.

Now I want to start this with three disclaimers, just to get them out of the way.

  1. I am a recent Harry Potter fan. While I have seen all of the movies, I have yet to finish reading the series. I understand that they are much better and say so much more about this character than I am aware yet, and I can only say that I am looking forward to discovering him more.
  2. I am a recent Harry Potter fan. I was not allowed to watch or read the series as a child. I support this decision of my parents’ 100% and will probably not allow my children to read the series or watch the movies until they are older. If you want to talk to me about why, feel free to leave a comment.
  3. I am an enormous Snape fan. I have been thinking about writing down my thoughts for a while now, but they still feel disjointed and not enough. So forgive the length of this post.

 

Severus Snape

Long ago I had a teacher. A sallow-skinned Slytherin with long black hair. I hated him and he seemed to hate me, too. And though I branded him a coward he was, in fact, the bravest man I ever knew.

Always picked on, always misunderstood, always hated. But he was clever and oh, so very brilliant and, despite the lack of love given to him his entire life, he had the largest heart that I have ever seen in any character. He loved so fervently, so irrevocably, that not even after she married his tormentor, not even after she died,  did he cease to love her.

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And when I say love, I mean love. There are countless characters who “love” so “deeply” that they become cynical, cruel, and revenge-thirsty after their love has been taken from them, whether by another person or by death. Instead, Snape’s love changed him in a completely different way. It saved him from the clutches of death, it brought him to the light, and it allowed him to care for a child that was not his. Snape’s love made his large heart brave and loyal. Snape’s love made him good.

And that’s the only thing that love should ever make us.

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Lilly Potter

She had a way of seeing the beauty in others, even, and perhaps most especially, when that person couldn’t see it in themselves.

I am often so taken by Snape’s profound love for Lilly that I forget that Lilly was a beautiful, loving, and exceptionally kind person. One that is so so so rare in this world. Seeing the good, seeing the beauty in every person, even when they can’t understand it themselves, is what real love is about. And I do not believe that Snape would’ve been the character he turned out to be had Lilly been less of who she was.

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Snape and Lilly understood love. And they both allowed that love to transform them.

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Cover photo cred: Nathaniel Emmett

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On The Weight Of Glory – Part I

While I’ve never read this book in its entirety, I’ve read the Weight of Glory chapter in Weight of Glory and it is quite possibly one of my favorite chapters of any book I’ve ever read. And I read a lot. That is why I want to go a little more in-depth with it, because it is a reading that never gets old for me. It always moves me and makes me wonder at my own faith, my neighbor, my love for God, and love in general. And it never ceases to amaze me. C.S. Lewis was a brilliant man.

If you asked twenty good men today what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness. But if you asked almost any of the great Christians of old he would have replied, Love.

You see what has happened? A negative term has been substituted for a positive, and this is of more than philological importance. The negative ideal of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point. I do not think this is the Christian virtue of Love.

The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire.

If there lurks in more modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith.

Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered to us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.

We are far too easily pleased.

We are half-hearted creatures. Our Lord finds our desires too weak.

What a mind-blowing, humbling thought. So many people look at Christianity as an enormous sacrifice, and it is genuinely hard for me at times to not see it that way as well.

With love, we have the opposite problem, believing that we are owed every pleasure, that if I don’t feel it, it’s not real.

But neither is true.

Christianity is stunning, it’s beautiful and brilliant, and utterly amazing – filled with true joy and genuine happiness. It is a perpetual holiday at the sea when we’ve been playing in the slums our entire life. Who could not want that? Who would deny themselves that? And yet, we are so concerned with our mud pies that we refuse to understand that it could be so, so, so much better.

The most remarkable part of it all is that God knows the deepest longings of our hearts, He understands what will make us happy in a way that we could never even contemplate; all we have to do is give him the chance. To answer the door to his knock.

And Love. Oh, Love. It’s something we seek, something we chase, something we live our entire lives hoping for when the real source is found in God and in ourselves. Until we learn that the self-denial is not an end in itself, until we see that pleasure is not an end in itself – until we acknowledge that the end, the purpose of love is securing the good of those we love – we will only be living a half-life.

The goal isn’t to be thinking about whether we are selfish or unselfish. The goal isn’t to think about whether we are giving the other person enough. The goal isn’t to think about whether we are being given enough.

The goal is to think about others, not ourselves at all – to live passionately for the Lord, to think about Him, His glory, and His people whom we were put here to love. Whole-heartedly, without reserve, and with the fullness of charity.

“Love, and do what you will.”

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Why Do You Weep?

GAH. Today’s readings.

Reading 1 – 1 SM 1:1-8

There was a certain man from Ramathaim, Elkanah by name,
a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim.
He was the son of Jeroham, son of Elihu,
son of Tohu, son of Zuph, an Ephraimite.

He had two wives, one named Hannah, the other Peninnah;
Peninnah had children, but Hannah was childless.

This man regularly went on pilgrimage from his city
to worship the LORD of hosts and to sacrifice to him at Shiloh,
where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas,
were ministering as priests of the LORD.

When the day came for Elkanah to offer sacrifice,
he used to give a portion each to his wife Peninnah
and to all her sons and daughters,
but a double portion to Hannah because he loved her,
though the LORD had made her barren.

Her rival, to upset her, turned it into a constant reproach to her
that the LORD had left her barren.

This went on year after year;
each time they made their pilgrimage to the sanctuary of the LORD,
Peninnah would approach her,
and Hannah would weep and refuse to eat.

Her husband Elkanah used to ask her:
“Hannah, why do you weep, and why do you refuse to eat?
Why do you grieve?
Am I not more to you than ten sons?”

Hannah was given a double portion because she was well-loved. She was given more, even though it appeared that she had less. And yet she still wept for the one thing she could not have. But her husband comes to her and says:

“Why do you weep…? Why do you grieve? Am I not more to you than ten sons?”

I walked into adoration feeling upset, frustrated, like I wasn’t getting what I wanted, and I read that.

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Am I not more than all of those things? Am I not bigger than this world, than your desires, do I not mean more to you than all these things?

I had to ask myself why I ever grieve, why I ever worry, why I ever feel even the slightest bit sorry for myself. Because if I have Him, what more could I possibly need? What more could I possibly want? He loves me, and has given me twice what I deserve.

That is cause for rejoicing.

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Poured Out For Us

A week ago we celebrated the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, which happens to be the 8th day after Christmas and thus, according to Jewish custom, the circumcision of the Lord. It also had the shortest Gospel I’ve ever experienced. I believe I actually laughed when it was over because it was quite literally six short sentences:

The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph,
and the infant lying in the manger.
When they saw this,
they made known the message
that had been told them about this child.
All who heard it were amazed
by what had been told them by the shepherds.
And Mary kept all these things,
reflecting on them in her heart.
Then the shepherds returned,
glorifying and praising God
for all they had heard and seen,
just as it had been told to them.

When eight days were completed for his circumcision,
he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel
before he was conceived in the womb.

Our priest had a beautiful homily for this Gospel that genuinely touched my heart, and that in combination with the stunning view, music, and Liturgy that St. John Cantius consistently provides, I have to say it was one of my favorite masses I’ve been to recently.

Side note: If you ever are in the Chicago area and are looking for a Catholic church, I HIGHLY recommend St. John Cantius. They really get it right, and also:

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The first part of this Gospel talks about the adoration of the shepherds, how their profound love for the Christ child overflowed and they immediately went out to tell everyone they could find. These are beautiful verses as they are, but one of my favorite lines is what follows:

“And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”

I freaking love Mary, she’s so legit and the PERFECT example of femininity. I’ll probably write more on that later, but what I want to emphasize is Mary’s heart. From the moment the angel came to her, Mary has been collecting, holding, keeping, every little thing about Jesus on her heart. She has been keeping Jesus on her heart.

And she never stops.

She watched, from the very beginning, how willing Jesus was to save us. She was the witness to His heart, and saw all the glory, all the pain, all the suffering that Jesus ever experienced for our sake. She understood the powerful, irrevocable love He has for us more intimately than we could ever hope to realize. Our priest talked about how , because of Mary’s unique role and understanding of the heart of Christ, we should ask her to help us see how much He loves us.

That thought had never crossed my mind.

Sure, I had thought to ask Mary for help to teach me how to love God, but I had never asked her to help me understand how much God loves me. It had never occurred to me to think about God’s love for me – I was far too concerned with how I was falling short in my love for Him.

Luckily, the homily gave me my first opportunity to contemplate this love on my heart. Jesus’s circumcision takes up one short sentence in the Gospel, but, like so much of the Bible, it’s infinitely bigger on the inside. The priest talked about how, in the circumcision, Jesus shed one drop of blood. Even as a baby, that one drop of blood had the salvific power necessary to save all of mankind.

Let me say that again. The single drop of blood shed by God at His circumcision was sufficient to save all mankind for eternity.

Yet, out of a love deeper than any of us could ever hope to know, He chose to spill all of it. He chose to lead us to salvation by pouring his entire heart out for us.

Our God didn’t want us to have enough. He wanted us to have it all.

THIS. This is Love.

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