Music in the Woods

On a warm spring day last week, I decided to take my writing project and go to “the park.” For the million or so visitors who come to our corner of Georgia each year, it’s the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. But for those of us who live in its backyard, it’s just “the park.” Fifty-three hundred acres of lush woodland, walking trails, and open fields riddled with cannons, stacks of cannonballs, and monuments to the soldiers who fought and died there. Driving down a tree-lined road, you feel enclosed and almost as if you’re in a green, underwater tunnel. It’s wonderful. I found a quiet cove and made my nest in it. I’d been there an hour or so when, over the sounds of the birds, I heard bagpipes.  

They were so loud that I should have been able to see the pipers, but I never did. They played tunes I didn’t know. Their plaintive notes were sad, but also comforting. Like having a good cry, when you really need one. I listened and looked for almost a half hour, but never saw the musicians. Sitting there, I felt homesick for something, but I wasn’t sure for what. It was a beautiful spring day and I was blessed to be spending the afternoon in one of my favorite places. There was a soft breeze and the trees and fields were alive with birdsong. And then, this gift of haunting, mysterious music filled my heart to overflowing. Perfect. That’s what it felt like. So much beauty and emotion in this moment, this place. So where was my homesickness coming from? Why was I longing for something or somewhere that I couldn’t even put into words? 

Because, even in those rare moments in our lives when everything is just perfect, deep in our hearts we know—-this is NOT as good as it gets. We know that we come from a place that is different from our lives here on earth. Different and perfect in every way, but not alien to us. For how can our true home be alien to us? I think the magical moments we have here on earth are magical because they remind us of where we come from. And that makes us homesick for heaven.  

Sometimes we try to imagine what heaven will be like. I’ve heard descriptions of it that put me to sleep. That make me say, “If that’s heaven, count me out!” It sounds dull and flat and well, boring. But that couldn’t be further from the truth of it. For in our heavenly home is all the love that has ever been created. There is all the sweet mercy and acceptance of a thousand lifetimes. And there is all the beauty, for heaven is where all the beauty comes from. Peaceful. Exciting. Mind-blowing beauty. We know it. We remember it. And we were made to return to it. To return to Him. Our Source. And our Father.  

So the next time your throat catches when you hear a beautiful song. Or you get teary-eyed at a stunning painting. Or you feel overwhelmed at the sight of a baby’s smile. Or even if you feel homesick when you hear bagpipes playing in he spring woods….imagine that feeling, but a million times over. And that will give you just a hint of the pure, enduring joy that God has created for us in heaven. This world can be ugly, and full of pain and sin. But it is also very beautiful, because it’s a reflection of our real home. He left heaven to live here with us and He died to open the doors of heaven for us. We are so very grateful. 

“I see the heavens opened.”

                             —-Acts 7:56 

The Church of Weed 

No. That joint you’re smoking isn’t a sacrament. 

You may have seen some recent news reports about a self-described group of “nuns” in Merced, California who call themselves the “Sisters of the Valley.” Pictures of them show the women wearing a kind of dark blue habit with a while veil while they tend marijuana plants. Let’s be clear, these women are not Catholic and they are not nuns. In fact, the seven women say they are “against religions.” They were founded in 2014 and they raise and process marijuana for medicinal use in balms and ointments. They claim that the hemp plant is their “Holy Trinity” and soon plan to move their operations to Canada.  

Other cannabis “churches” have been founded around the country in several states over the last few years. Indiana, Florida, and Ohio also have communities whose “worship” centers around smoking weed. Just this past week, the “International Church of Cannabis” opened in Denver. Cloaked in many of the symbols of traditional Christian worship, they use words like “sacrament,” “priest,” “ministry,” and “spirit.” At this point, the legal entanglements of mixing worship and weed are still being worked out, even in pot-friendly Colorado. Right now, the church is regulated as a private club and is only open to registered members. But that will probably change over time. All sorts of crazy “religions” have popped up over the centuries and that trend shows no signs of slowing down.

People yearn for God. They seek out Beauty, Truth, and the Eternal. They invent ways in which to experience Him. They reject His Church because it makes demands of them. It asks them to confess their sins, repent, and sin no more. It asks them to follow God’s commandments and submit their will to the will of Jesus Christ. But that’s hard and means self-denial. It’s lots easier to dress like a nun (without any sense of true religious vocation), call yourself “Sister” (without any true commitment to community), and claim that hemp is your “Holy Trinity” (without any understanding of what is holy or god-like). It’s like children playing a make-believe game without any mature understanding of what they’re doing. But, unlike the innocent play of children, this sort of imitation is hollow and sad. 

It’s sad because they long for an experience of God but they reject the grace that He longs to give them through the Sacraments of His Church. They seek self, not a relationship with their Savior. Each of our souls was created to be nourished by the grace of Baptism, Confession, Confirmation, and the Holy Eucharist. Nothing short of these will satisfy the spiritual hunger which the Lord created within us. As more communities embrace the legal use of marijuana, the number and variation of these sorts of “churches” and communities will probably continue to grow. Just as we see so many seeking God in the things of the world, they need our prayers as well as our living example of loving forgiveness and mercy. How many of us have wandered down the wrong road before we were led to Jesus Christ? We pray for them as we do any brother or sister who is lost, that they may find the Truth of His salvation.

“One road leads home and a thousand roads lead into the wilderness.”

                ——-C.S. Lewis. 

Risk Your Life

Easter is the ultimate truth of the universe. Every other truth is dependent on the fact that Jesus Christ died and rose again. He offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice for all our sins. Through His death and resurrection, we have been given eternal life. Everything has changed. Everything has been made new (Revelation 21:5). Everything. Including you and me and how we live our lives. This isn’t a philosophy. It’s not a theory. Our salvation is a Person. A real, historical Person. He has transformed the world and all that it’s in it. The power of Easter is utterly and completely and shatteringly true. Easter is the power of creation itself given to each of us as a gift from God. Yet so often we fail to accept it. We trudge along with downcast eyes, burdened by life, acting as if Jesus never defeated death. We don’t realize that He has set us free.  

A free life is one that reflects the truth, the love, and the power of Jesus’ Resurrection on Easter morning. It’s a life lived without fear of the tomb. And it’s amazing. Interested?

Love your family. Lay down your life for them. Celebrate the worthiness of your beloved by uniting with them in the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. Don’t be fooled by the world’s attempts to lure you into living with someone, or being satisfied with some other imitation of marriage. Live the Sacrament. Be open to the gift of life. Allow the Lord to involve you in creating your family in His timing, which is always perfect. Raise your children in the faith of His Church. Pray for them and with them every day. Let them see you welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, comfort the afflicted, visit the imprisoned and give without counting the cost.  

Treat your neighbors as members of your family. Be honest and straightforward in your business dealings. Pay others a living wage. Involve yourself in the life of your community. Teach your children to respect the laws of our country and how to serve others in your neighborhood. Don’t be afraid to stand up for what is right and true, even if it is unpopular. Share your faith in the public square. Work hard to support your family and let your children see the value of a job well done. Give of your time, talent and treasure to support the Church. Teach your children to do the same. Be joyful in all that you do. Let your children see that even our suffering can be a blessing when it is offered to the Lord. Life can be hard and it’s often unfair, but we are just passing through this world on the way to our true home. Help your family keep their eyes fixed on Jesus by watching you follow Him.  

Never be afraid of loving. Be kind to everyone. Show mercy. Pray for the people who cause you pain. Give people second chances. Be content in silence. Put down your phone and talk. Teach your children to pray the Rosary. Make time for art and music. Seek beauty and teach your children to know true beauty. When we seek beauty, we seek God. Life your life in the joy of Easter morning, every day. Christ has freed us from the chains of sin and death. He gave us a Church to lead us to heaven. That same Church gave us the Bible, which is His holy word. Rejoice in the gift of His love and embrace a life lived in faith. Allow Him to love you as He created you to be loved. Easter changes everything.

Are you capable of risking your life for someone? Do it for Christ.”

                      —St. John Paul II 

Hidden Treasures 

Recently I’ve been sorting through some of my late mother’s things. I always kidded her about being a pack rat, but now I know how unfair that was to the rats. She saved everything. Things you might expect, like photos and letters, and things that might surprise you, like a plastic bag of prescription bottle caps. Going through the boxes of her things made me laugh and made me cry. I saw what she had treasured and mostly, that was her family. She loved us so much. And while I’d dreaded going through all those boxes, in the end, it was a wonderful blessing.  

That’s kind of how my Lent has gone this year. Usually I’m excited about Lent. I like the discipline of it and the way that I’m drawn into the readings and prayers as the entire Church journeys toward Easter. But, for some reason, I dreaded Lent this year. I dragged along with a sour face and an unwilling spirit on most days. My prayer life seemed as dry as dust. I was the worst example of a joyous Christian. Instead of accompanying our Savior, I shuffled along in the back of the crowds and complained about all the walking. I resented the joy that I saw among His friends. I judged. I mumbled. I just wanted a nap. And now Lent is almost over and everyone around me has grown in holiness and reverence and charity. I’m about as holy as that bag of bottle caps I found in my mom’s collected stuff. I’m still the same old selfish, prideful self that I was back on Ash Wednesday. I’m a total failure at Lent.  

Thanks be to God, our Lord doesn’t keep score. We can be total flops at Lent and He still loves us. We don’t have to ‘do” anything or “be” anything other than the completely undeserving sinner that we are for His love to save us. I’m good at that. In fact, being an undeserving sinner comes naturally to me. The blessing He’s given me this Lent is the gift of knowing with assurance that there’s nothing I can do to earn His love and there’s nothing I can do to make Him love me less.

Over the days of Holy Week, I’m going to be with Jesus as He rides into Jerusalem on a donkey. I’ll be waving a palm frond and shouting,”Hosanna!” I’ll be there as He gives us the priesthood and the Eucharist on Holy Thursday. I’ll be the first one to fall asleep in the Garden but I’ll be there in the crowd to shout, “Crucify Him!” I’ll hide while He’s nearly beaten to death. I’ll walk up the hill to Golgotha where they’ll nail Him to the Cross. I’ll watch His Blessed Mother as her heart is pierced with sorrow. I’ll see Him die. For me. For this undeserving sinner.  

Just as sorting through my mother’s things was a chore that ended in a blessing, so has this Lenten season been for me. In each, I found a treasure of love, freely given. I wasn’t the best daughter and I’m very far from a Saint, but I know that I am loved. My Easter prayer for each of us is that we can embrace the love of Christ and share it with the people in our lives.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; HisMercies never come to an end. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.”

        —-Lamentations 3:22-23 

The Noise of the World 

“There are days when you just don’t think you can go on. You’re exhausted but there’s no end to what you have to do. Each day is like a treadmill that’s running on high speed and it’s all you can do to keep up. If you could only have some time to rest, to recover, and to catch your breath. You don’t think you can make it anymore.” This is what the world says to you. But don’t listen to the world.

“You feel so bad that it had happened–that you had done it. What had you been thinking? It makes you feel so guilty and you hate remembering it. Who could ever love you if they knew about it? You hate yourself for it. There’s nothing you could do to make things right again. It’s like a terrible weight that you’re forced to carry all by yourself.” This is what the world says to you. But don’t listen to the world.  

“She’s one of your closest friends, so you have to help her out with this. She needs your support. She says it would wreck her career right now. After all, it won’t be her first one. The whole thing will be over in just a few hours. You can drive her to her appointment and be home in time for dinner. It’s her body. And, after all, everyone says it’s just a clump of cells.” This is what the world says to you. But don’t listen to the world.

“You just can’t stand to listen to him anymore. He stands for everything you can’t and won’t tolerate. He believes his opinions are the only correct ones. This past election season was horrible because he disagreed with everything you said to him. How can anybody be that stupid? This friendship just isn’t worth it anymore.” This is what the world says to you. But don’t listen to the world.  

“What a sexist pig! He must think that the only reason women exist in the world is for his pleasure. He could never view a woman as his intellectual equal. He won’t even have dinner alone with a woman, except for his wife. What a disrespectful attitude to women!” This is what the world says to you. But don’t listen to the world.

“She’s there every day on the sidewalk outside. Filthy, dirty, and smelling so bad it’s almost unbearable. There are shelters for people like her, so why won’t she go to one? You never put any money in her old coffee can. She’d probably just use it to buy a cheap bottle of wine. You wish she’d move to a different spot so you wouldn’t have to see her every day. What a waste!” This is what the world says to you. But don’t listen to the world.  

How often do we listen to the voice of the world rather than to the words of our loving Savior? Perhaps because we allow the world to drone in through television and social media. We run from the silence in which we need to dwell in order to hear the whisper of God. But the Lord is always near us, longing to be heard and to listen; longing to reassure us of His love and forgiveness. There’s nothing we can do to make Him love us less; nothing we need fear from going to Him in repentance. He invites us to forgive others, to see and to support the poor among us, to stand up for life and for marriage. Only God can give us the peace and the rest that we’re looking for. Easter is the promise of His love fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The sound of the stone rolling away from the tomb can silence the clamor and noise of the world, if we allow it. Listen for the His voice especially during these last days of our Easter preparation. He is peace. He is love.  

“…in the world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have conquered the world.”

          —John 16:33