Surrender the Brownies

YOU WILL LEAD ME BY THE RIGHT ROAD, THOUGH I MAY KNOW NOTHING ABOUT IT

The Witness of the Demonic


A few years ago, I went to a Steubenville youth conference here in Tucson, Arizona. It was a great event, always is, but something happened that night that I have never forgotten. It was something of great evil, but something that was a huge witness to the good.

It was a demonic attack.

Now, there have always been evil presences wherever there is great good. I have not yet been to a Steubenville conference without hearing the gibbering, hyena-like laughter from nowhere that always signals that the enemy is prowling around. It used to scare me, but since coming to Franciscan, I’ve learned a lot about the demonic and I’m less terrified. I had heard the laughter during Mass that morning, coming from somewhere above us. I had prayed and tried to ignore it, and it left as soon as communion began. But that night, at adoration, it began again, softly, almost whispered. It sounded excited. A palpable feeling of unease was in the room. I couldn’t get into the music or the worship, I was far too alert and on edge. Then, shattering the stillness of the Eucharistic procession, someone started screaming.

I didn’t know who, I was too far away. My father, who was working security, was on the scene quickly, and saw a young person writhing and screaming. As the monstrance passed by, the youth jumped for it, clawing at the floor, growling at the Eucharist. The security team could barely hold the person back from lunging at the priest. The team carried the youth outside, where, mysteriously, a priest trained in deliverance was waiting, claiming to have felt that he was being called there for some reason. The person was eventually alright.

Now, I hear you. OOOh, Tani, you’re telling ghost stories to scare us! You’re trying to get us interested in the demonic, isn’t that dangerous? Obviously, yes, you’re right. Being overly interested in demons and hunting them out is a terrible idea, and a great way to get yourself possessed. But that is exactly why we need to talk about these things. Too many people are “hunting” demons using unblessed crosses and ziplock bags of unblessed salt, inspired by TV shows like Supernatural and movies like The Rite. Too many people think it’s a silly game to consult tarot, visit fortune tellers, call psychic mediums, or use ouija boards. Too many people visit “haunted” locations and try to rile up spirits into showing themselves, using at best purgatorial souls and at worst demons to give themselves a rush. Maybe one of these things happened to that young person. But these are not symptoms of overinterest in demons and the spiritual world. They’re symptoms of the opposite, symptoms of a society that has lost its understanding and fear of the spiritual world as anything more than a gateway to an adrenaline fix. These are not issues of belief, but of unbelief. And it’s these actions that can lead to the most potent attachments.

A famous saying goes “the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist,” and it’s completely right. Maybe you’re reading this and scoffing, because demons were things invented by our unscientific ancestors to explain away mental illness and natural phenomena. In some cases, that’s correct, but not in others. There’s no way to explain away a young person, in the peak of health, screaming at and trying to hurt a piece of bread. There’s no way to explain away how someone looks, feels, or smells different when they’ve been in contact with demons. There’s no way to explain away how demons themselves sound and look and feel. It makes no sense, logically. They simply are what they are– existing things of emptiness, darkness, and intense hatred. They hunt us, and, like any hunter, they prefer that their prey does not know that they are there. Society’s unbelief helps them a great deal in that regard. Does that scare you? It should.

But not so much that you don’t see why I’m talking about them. How much do you want to bet that the people around that young person had never seen or experienced diabolical attacks? How many did not believe in them? And how many do you think believed after they saw what happened, not only in demons, but also in the power of the Eucharist that this person was so doggedly trying to destroy? How many came to see the spiritual reality not only of evil, but of good? In this instance, God used even demons to prove His glory. If one side exists, then the other must also exist. If evil is the absence of good, as per St. Augustine, then good must exist, as well.

We have lost something vital to our understanding of the spiritual world when we ignore the existence of demons. We’ve lost our knowledge of the fact that the spiritual world can affect us, for good or ill. We’ve lost sight of the spiritual world that is so close to our own that the creatures there can see, hear, and touch us. Think about it– if demons can hear us, so can angels! If demons can drag us away from heaven with temptation, saints can pull us closer with grace! If Hell is hunting us, Heaven is searching for us! If Satan is watching, so is God, and God and the good are always more powerful that all the evil in existence. The witness of the demonic is that God exists, that the Church can help us, that heaven is really attainable for man.

Be afraid of demons, if you must, but be more afraid of not knowing that they’re hunting you. Be afraid of their tricks that may cause you to lose God. Fight by keeping your eyes focused on God alone, working on virtue, and involving your patron saints and guardian angels in your life every single day.

For spiritual warfare tips, I suggest that you watch my video on the subject from a few months ago.

Love to all!

-Tani

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What It Means To Illuminate Peace


Hello readers! It has been a while, hasn’t it? Well, I’m safe here in my second semester at Franciscan University, and I’ve semi-retired from blogging to focus on all the stress that comes from being an English major. I have to write about two essays, from 800-2000 words, every week, so fun writing is pretty low on my priority scale. How have I stayed sane with that kind of workload? Mostly through the amazing ladies of my household, Illuminata Pace.

Here's most of us. I'm in there somewhere!

Here’s most of us. I’m in there somewhere!

Illuminata Pace, translated to “illuminating peace,” is a household dedicated to Franciscan spirituality, and we center our lives around peace, joy, humility, and prayer. I’d never really considered peace hugely important before I came, and I thought the peace prayer of St. Francis was just a weird song that my grandparent’s very 70’s parish sang, with twangy guitars, to the point where nobody really listened anymore. Certainly, I never thought of peace as something illuminating. But we pray the prayer several times a week, and the more I’ve looked at it, the more it’s come to mean to me. For all of you who have forgotten, here are the words:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.

I started saying this prayer as a morning offering when I became a full sister in Illuminata Pace two months ago, and it has led me to do a lot of meditating on the nature of peace and what peace can do.  CCC 2304 says that “Peace is not merely the absence of war…Peace is “the tranquillity of order.” Peace is the work of justice and the effect of charity.” There have been a lot of reasons this semester to not be peaceful, but the words of the peace prayer stop me, slow me down, and help me remember who I am as a sister of illuminating peace. Every line has had its place in my life.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace… We are not the creators of peace, but merely the instruments of God’s peace.  As Mother Theresa said, we’re just little pencils in the hands of a writing God, who is writing a love letter to the world. We need to ask God to let us be His instruments, His paintbrushes of peace, so that He can cover the whole world in peace. We must be grounded firmly in the peace of Christ to give His peace to the world, and it’s a peace that surpasses all understanding. Being instruments of God, surrendering ourselves to the higher calling of Christ, allows us to enter into that peace fully.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love… when people are angrily gossiping, are mad at each other, or are refusing to respect human dignity, being instruments of God’s peace means gently and lovingly leading them in a better direction, and prayerfully asking Him to show you what that better direction is.

Where there is injury, pardon… when I have hurt someone, or someone has hurt me, being an instrument of peace means being the first to apologize, the first to forgive. Is it difficult? Hell yes! But oh, the graces that come from this struggle of peace are incredible. This, again, requires constant prayer while trying to do, but when you ground forgiveness in peace, it becomes much easier to give.

Where there is doubt, faith… People, even people at Franciscan University, doubt the love of God. They doubt the forgiveness of God. They even doubt the existence of God when desolation becomes strong enough. Being the light of peace means letting God shine through you into those people, in whatever way you can. It means listening, encouraging, explaining points of the faith, and doing it all in prayer and with the quiet joy of peace that allows doubts, but strives to assuage them.

Where there is despair, hope... People despair. I despair. A year ago, on October 23, 2015, I tried to kill myself. I think many people know what despair feels like. Many cannot get out on their own, and need a leg up. Peace is that divine elevator to help people out of despair. Peace sees the trials and pains of life and acknowledges them, but doesn’t let them win. Peace allows pain to be put in the right place, as something real and difficult, but not overwhelming as long as one is clinging to the cross, even if one is only clinging to their cross through the nails that are holding them to it. Peace sees all that, and reminds us that, no matter how painful the crucifixion is, there is a resurrection to come, and so we need not worry that the pain will completely overwhelm us. Being an instrument of peace here means being there for those people who are in their stage of crucifixion, being there to remind them that every Easter Sunday comes after a painful Good Friday and a cold and dead Holy Saturday. You don’t even have to say it out loud to them. You just have to pray and love as God leads you to.

Where there is darkness, light… the world is dark, but, as St. Francis said, all the darkness of the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle. We can be the light in a dark world when we allow peace to illuminate us, when we allow God to lead us in peace even as all the darkness of our fallen world seems to be sinking around us.We illuminate peace when we study the teachings of the Church and gain knowledge about God. We illuminate peace when we shine through the darkness of ignorance and lead people to the truth of the gospel. We illuminate peace when we choose perfect joy over anger at our situations, when we choose to sink into the joy of the gospel that counteracts the world’s calls to dissatisfaction and cynicism.

Where there is sadness, joy… One of the charisms of Illuminata Pace is this perfect joy, which we’ve matched to this picture: our-lady-of-sorrows

This picture of Our Mother of Sorrows seems contradictory to joy, what with all the tears and the corpse of Christ in the middle. But perfect joy is found in perfect suffering, because suffering allows us to see clearly what choosing joy means. It doesn’t mean ignoring all suffering. It means putting it into its proper place, and recognizing that all the pain of the world cannot ever destroy the joy of the Incarnation and the Resurrection, and cannot even begin to come close to threatening the joy of heaven. Peace puts our thoughts solely on those things, puts our eyes on the lighthouse of heaven so that all the storms of the world, while they may crash and blow, are seen as what they are– changeable nature, not eternal life. When we sink into perfect joy, we create a beautiful example of peace, one that others will want to emulate. Peace illuminates, it spreads outward from the person who is peaceful and lights up everyone around them.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console… Illumination goes outward from the person, by definition. Peace isn’t really about what we’re getting, it’s about what we’re giving to the world. We aren’t seeking to be consoled be others, we’re trying to give them the consolation of God. God has no arms but ours with which to hold people, no ears but ours with which to listen to them, no mouth but ours with which to encourage. We ask for the grace to be these for Him.

To be understood, as to understand... The peace of Christ makes us as absolutely selfless as He is. We know He understands us when we are secure in His peace. Others might not feel that way, and might need human understanding to be reminded of the all-understanding love of God. We need the grace of God to be able to understand the hurts of others and to show to them how God’s understanding is even greater.

To be loved as to love… Again, peace makes us selfless. We aren’t seeking to become instruments of peace so that we can have all the love and admiration of people. We are here to love others. Everything we have been given is for the good of others, and that includes the love of God. To be peacefully secure in the love of God is to want others to be as secure, so we must prayerfully try to show that love to everyone we meet without any thought for what we are getting out of the deal. Heaven is quite enough, thank you.

For it is in giving that we receive… Mother Theresa is quoted as saying “I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.” The same goes for peace. However much we may give, God constantly gives us more. To wish to give all your God-given peace away is to also be giving a never-empty fountain of peace. We cannot ever run out of the love of God or the peace of God. He will always give more as long as we are giving.

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned… Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, right? When we pardon the faults of others, no matter how much they have hurt us, we can be confident that God will forgive us to the same degree. God follows our lead on that point. His capacity to forgive us is infinite, yes, but He will forgive us only as much as we forgive others. So we must forgive everything, and be peacemakers to all, and seek to forgive as infinitely as we wish to be forgiven.

And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life… I am going to die. It is going to hurt more than I can ever adequately describe. The thought of how painful my eventual death will be drove me to try to kill myself, that’s how afraid I am of it. But the peace of Christ takes away that sting, because no matter how much death scares and hurts, it will never be greater than the joy of heaven. The great paradox of Christianity is that we lovingly accept even the hardest death, so as to gain eternal life. Even if your suffering is so great that it kills you, if you suffer in the peace of Christ, you can be secure in His promise of heaven. And that makes it all worth it, doesn’t it?

Amen? Amen. Now, have a really pretty sung version of the prayer, and go out and illuminate!

Love to all!

-Tani

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I Am Killing Christ Today


A few days ago, Franciscan University of Steubenville put on a passion play/living stations with students filling all the roles. I went, because many of my friends were in it. My brother was a centurion who beat Jesus, my friend Joseph was the bad thief, my friend Clarke was Pilate, my friend Brian was Simon of Cyrene, Milana was a woman of the crowd who hurled insults at Christ, and my friend Salvador (there’s an ironic name for ya) was Jesus.

It. Was. Horrible.

Not the play, because that was performed beautifully, but the actions. I saw my brother kicking my friend, saw my closest friends hurling insults and condemning someone I knew was innocent, screaming like demons and sadistically kicking a man who was on the ground. I saw a good man who is always very modest and well-dressed, who gives fist bumps in the hallway and never has a mean thing to say to anyone, be stripped to a loincloth and nailed (tied) to a cross by my own brother. Yes, it was all fake. But this drove a point home to me that I’d never actually understood before. Because see, this play proved to me that all the people of the passion? Yeah, they’re all us.

My friends and I are capable of condemning Christ to death when we can’t be bothered to stand up for what’s really true and beautiful. We’re capable of insulting Him and spitting at Him when we decide to sin, knowing exactly what the cost of our sin is on Him. We’re capable of ridiculing Him for possibly thinking that suffering could be good, of laughing at His humility and acceptance even as we’re hanging on our own crosses right next to Him. Every day we nail Him onto the cross and then demand He come down from it just to prove to us that He can, demanding signs and wonders to prove that He’s real as we torture Him for not being exactly the way we want Him to be. We are every character in this grand Passion. His blood is upon us and on our children, not just on some dusty Jews from thousands of years ago.

It is easy to sin when you’re alone and the consequences of it aren’t directly affecting you. But I got to see a friend of mine be hurt, albeit in a fake way, for something that the narrator said I had done. If that hurt me, how much more should the reality of the crucifixion hurt me? How much more remorse should I feel for the actual events, when the play with actors who would shower off the fake blood and put back on their normal clothes in an hour brought me to tears? When I choose to sin, I am knowingly beating and stripping and killing my friend like the Roman guards. When I yell at God for abandoning me and demand a sign that He’s still around, I am the bad thief and the Pharisees. When I allow a friend to do what I know is wrong because I don’t want to rock the boat, I am Pilate, washing my hands of the death of Christ yet still completely culpable for it (to the point where he is remembered by name in the Creed!) And so are you. So are we all.

There is no reason for God to do this. We do not deserve this. We are so wretched, so utterly hopeless, so completely undeserving of the grace of the Passion. We can talk about how much God loves us til we’re blue in the face, but we all have to realize that, because of what we do to Him, we don’t deserve an ounce of mercy. If God were a human, He’d be within His rights to smite all of us, or to turn His back and never acknowledge us again. But God was a human, and He didn’t. He chooses to love us and chase us anyway, as completely worthless as we are. That’s what mercy means. How dare we have pride and see God’s mercy as something to take for granted, something we deserve? How dare we act like we wouldn’t do exactly the same thing as those people in Jerusalem in 33 A.D.?

This Lent of the year of mercy has been, for me, a time of intense meditation on the mercy of Christ. In order to need the infinite mercy of God, we need to realize how intensely wretched we are. We need to know exactly what we’re capable of: murdering someone who loves us and doing it on a daily basis. God’s mercy is the only thing that can make us able to live with ourselves once we’ve realized what we’ve done to Him.  I’ve been broken this year, and it’s nothing compared to what Christ suffered, for all that, in my pride, I’ve thought it was as bad. But He offered me mercy, and, in that mercy, I can come back to Him.

May you all have a blessed Triduum and Easter Season!

Love to all!

-Tani

 

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The Man Who Taught Me To Pray


“For prayer is nothing else than being on terms of friendship with God.” -St. Theresa of Avila 

This is Bill.

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He wears green in front of green things.

Bill was my youth minister for Life Teen all through High School. Bill is the stepfather of one of my best friends. Bill is the husband of the lovely lady who makes the best macaroni and cheese in creation. Bill drives a big truck, he can’t really sing (though he tries) and he always commands absolute respect by his mere presence in a room, though he never acts pompous or mean about his role as leader. He’s well-loved by just about everyone in the entire world. He’s a pretty awesome guy.

But the best thing about Bill is that Bill is also the person who taught me how to pray, without ever even meaning to.

I already knew what to pray, of course. I knew the basics, how to say a Hail Mary, how to ask God for what I wanted as my family sat together during morning and night prayers. To me, that was prayer- the scheduled, formalized, and phrases that I oft-repeated until they became almost meaningless, sure that that was how one talked to God. At Life Teen, all prayers followed a pretty regular outline of Hail Marys and St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle-s. Sometimes, someone would ask for a particular intention, and everyone would nod and say “amen,” and maybe shake the person’s hand afterward and promise their continued prayers. In that comfortable state of spiritual complacency, I felt that my prayer life was solid and didn’t need to improve any more at all.

Then came the Virtuous Reality Life Teen in March of 2012. I wrote an overview of it then, but the whole learning to pray bit was at the very end of the retreat, in the last two hours, so I really didn’t mention it. When we left the retreat center, I ended up in the truck with Bill and a few others. Since retreats are exhausting, the other teens pretty quickly fell asleep in the back. I had my headphones in and was dozing in the front seat when, in the space between two songs, I heard Bill quietly talking. I turned down the music, and heard him having a conversation. He spoke chattily, like he was just talking with an old friend. It was only when I heard him thanking the person for a green light that I realized he was praying- but praying like I had never heard anyone pray before. He spoke to God like he knew Him; not with bored familiarity, but with joy and security in the presence of the Other. He thanked God for even the tiny things around him, like the view, and for the success of the retreat. He was talking like there was nobody in the world besides Bill and God.

St. Alphonsus Liguori once said that:

Your God is ever beside you—indeed, He is even within you. “In Him we live, and move, and are.” (Acts 17:28). Not only is there no need of an intermediary through whom He would want you to speak to Him, but He finds His delight in having you treat with Him personally and in all confidence. Speak to Him often of your business, your plans, your troubles, your fears—of everything that concerns you. But above all, converse with Him confidently and frankly; for God is not wont to speak to a soul that does not speak to Him.”

Since that day, that quote has always reminded me of Bill, and every time I read it (and, since it’s one of my favorite quotes from one of my patron saints, I read it a lot) I say a quick thank you to God for blessing me with this incredible role model. I pray like he does, now, too, and gosh does it ever make a difference in life to not feel like you have to say thees and thous in order to make God hear you. God loves us and is interested in us, and so it should be the most natural thing in the world to just talk to Him like a friend. I can talk to God in the good times and the bad times and the bored in-between times, and He’s always as new and interesting and involved as the very first time we talked. That’s the cool thing about having an infinite God. He’s infinitely interesting and eternally available.

Bill had to move to another parish recently, and so I probably won’t be seeing him very often at all. But, on the off chance he ever reads this, I thought he and the world should know that he completely revolutionized my prayer life, and I’m incredibly grateful to him. Also, I owe him some peanut butter cookies, so there’s that.

Love to all!

-Tani

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When Advent Continues Past Christmas


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King David in Prayer, by Pieter de Grebber

 

Well, it’s now officially the end of the Christmas season. Today is the last of the twelve days of Christmas. The presents have been opened, the tree is being taken down, the family and friends are gone, and all the commitments that have kept you busy for weeks have evaporated, leaving you… well, right where you were before. Maybe you’re still on a holiday high, but maybe you’re not. Maybe you’re feeling empty and restless, and now that the hustle of Christmas is over, you still feel like it’s Advent in your soul. Life is hard, life is sad, and you’re waiting for God to show up and change that. But He doesn’t seem anywhere in sight.

My pastor, Fr. Juan Carlos, had a homily near the beginning of Advent that I’ve been ruminating on since. He said a lot of things, but one statement really stuck out to me. He said, “The feeling of God’s abandonment is not bad. It shows us that the soul is alive.” Isn’t that an odd thought? How could a feeling as nasty as that of thinking God is gone and He doesn’t care about you could be a good thing? It was a really confusing idea, so I wrote it down in my pocket notebook, so that I could try to understand.

Padre JC: master of confusing maxims, candy making, and cool selfies (when I'm not photobombing them)

Padre JC: master of confusing maxims, candy making, and cool selfies (when I’m not photobombing them)

 

Well, it took reading my Bible, more than a month later, to come up with an answer. I was sitting in Adoration last Friday, doing some Lectio Divina on Psalm 48, and verses 4-8 really stuck out to me. Here, read them with me-

For lo, the kings assembled,
    they came on together.
 As soon as they saw it, they were astounded,
    they were in panic, they took to flight;
 trembling took hold of them there,
    anguish as of a woman in travail.
By the east wind thou didst shatter
    the ships of Tarshish.
As we have heard, so have we seen
    in the city of the Lord of hosts,
in the city of our God,
    which God establishes for ever. (RSVCE)

So, here we see invading armies, lead by enemy kings. That it in the third line is Jerusalem itself- they were within sight of the city! Think of how scared everyone must have been. They had probably tried to beat back the invaders and failed, if the enemy was within sight of the inland capital city of Israel. Hope seemed lost. The people probably felt terrified and abandoned by God, with such a calamity heading right for them! Why would God let their enemies get all the way to Jerusalem, if He really cared about them? What if He was angry, and His absence and refusal to help was His punishment?

We’ve all thought like this. We can see our problems careening towards us, and defeat seems certain. God is nowhere to be found, and we know we can’t depend on ourselves to fix ourselves. We feel empty, despondent, broken. What did we do to deserve this? Does God even exist at all? If He does, why is He making us wait until all our hope is drained?

I’m going to paraphrase Father JC again, this time from his Christmas homily (he says a lot of cool things. Y’all should visit for Mass one day.) His homily that midnight was about when we are shrunk to our lowest point, when we’re completely finished, that’s when we find God. We have to be completely in the dark, so God’s light shines on us all the brighter. Back to our Israelite friends, though, all scared and stuff. They probably looked like this.

scared-man

And like this.

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And even like this!

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And then, something happens! Something BIG. What? No idea. We can infer that a mighty east wind, a storm, comes upon them, but that could still be metaphorical. Whatever happened, though, was something that would lead several thousand trained, hardened soldiers and their leaders to scream in terror (comparable to the screams of a woman in labor) and run from what would have earlier seemed an easy victory. A simple storm wouldn’t have shaken these brave and battle-tested attackers, who had fought their way past armies, to the gates of the city of God, oh no. But God showed His awesome power, and drove the enemy away from His people. King David, watching these proceedings, takes up his harp and composes this song, singing of how this event has taken his fear and doubt and turned them into trust and praise for God, in verses 9-14.

We have thought on thy steadfast love, O God,
    in the midst of thy temple.
As thy name, O God,
    so thy praise reaches to the ends of the earth.
Thy right hand is filled with victory;
     let Mount Zion be glad!
Let the daughters of Judah rejoice
    because of thy judgments!

Walk about Zion, go round about her,
    number her towers,
 consider well her ramparts,
    go through her citadels;
that you may tell the next generation
     that this is God,
our God for ever and ever.
    He will be our guide for ever. (RSVCE) 

Notice, David numbers all of his earthly protections, so as to say that they were useless compared to the protecting power of God. Though I didn’t include the verses here, David reiterates how strong Jerusalem’s fortifications were in the beginning of the psalm, reiterating how ineffectual they were. God had to prove all of those things useless in order to show who He was to the people that He loved. All of our walls and all the little things we do to control our lives are useless against our Enemy, and it’s pure pride to think that they could ever suffice to keep us happy or safe from distress. God allows enemies to come for us, allows us to be broken and brought to the brink of pure despair, because that’s where we realize how much we need Him. He never wants or enjoys us feeling pain, fear, or abandonment, but He allows it because He knows He’s going to save us, make us into the people we were made to be.

But He can’t do that unless we let Him be Him. So rather than let us cling to the facade and the happy feelings we may associate with Him, He backs away, so that He can better show us who He really is. He’s someone who comes in power, but also in humility. In the psalm, we don’t even know what He did to save His people. We can’t recognize Him, so perfectly humble is His glory.

He does that a lot.

He comes like that a lot.

So if you’re feeling empty and abandoned and restless, hold on. God may already be working in you, or at the very least, preparing you for His work. One day, you’ll be able to sing of His love and His power, so far above all the ways we humans try to circumvent Him. Be faithful, be hopeful, be loving, and wait.

Love to all!

-Tani

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A New Year for New People


It’s the last day of the year, the time that I get really nostalgic about life. 2014 has really seemed to fly by in a blur, though, at the same time, I find myself very aware of change, both in the world around me and in myself. And that hasn’t even been confined to the past twelve months!

I’ve been looking back lately, reading posts from the early days of this blog. And you know what? I don’t think I know that Tani anymore. The person I was, four years ago, three years ago, heck, one year ago… is not the me I am now. And that’s a good thing. As I read back, look back to the kid I was, I see someone manipulative, but scared. Someone who didn’t think she had any worth, or could ever have it. Someone who wanted nothing more than to be loved, but was terrified that she wasn’t good enough for it. I was desperate for control of my life, which I felt was slipping away from me, with my sister going quite literally crazy and my parents not really seeming to care about me, so busy were they with her. I thought I was the only person I could possibly depend on, and that made me bitter, cynical, and even mean to anyone who I felt could shake my tenuous control of my life.

I was distant from God, I didn’t know Him, though I pretended to, and I was sick with worry that people would find that out. I didn’t pray much, and I hated Christian music with a passion, because I didn’t understand how people could be so sure that a seemingly uncaring force could really love them, or that they could love Him back. But at the same time, I wanted that feeling. I craved it, which strangely only made me hate it all the more.

Then, I got sick, and that shattered what small confidence I had in my own supremacy. Looking back, I find it almost funny that I was so utterly despondent at what now seems an irrelevant amount of pain, but it was all-consuming back then. I blamed God for it, of course, sure that my as-yet unknown illness was His fault, a punishment for my very existence. I wasn’t supposed to be alive, I was convinced, and God was just trying to wipe me out, fix what my older sister had termed the “mistake” of me being born. She said it was like the Great Flood… God had messed up when He made me, and just wanted me gone so that all the people He had meant to be there could live as they were supposed to, without me messing them up.

(Have I mentioned yet that my sister was crazy? I think it bears mentioning again. My sister, forgive the language, was batshit insane.)

Now, I’m not saying all this to garner pity from y’all, but rather to make a point to who I am, today, on December 31st, 2014. Who am I?

I’m loved.

Honestly, that’s the most all-encompassing adjective I can use to describe myself now, a word I would never, in a million years, have used to describe myself back in 2011. Broken, ugly, invisible, sinful, stupid, maybe, but never loved. Never beautiful. Never forgiven. I’m writing this, with Lincoln Brewster’s Made New playing in the background. I understand the words now. Looking back, seeing Tani from 2011 and 2012, I can see God’s hand on me the whole way, changing me and making me better so slowly I barely even noticed until now. I may have felt alone, but He was constantly putting people into my life who made me better, helped me grow, and just loved me. I felt powerful in my own strength, and He sent me loving rebukes that humbled me without breaking me down (not that I liked them much in the moment.) I felt unknown and unknowable, and He showered me with little gifts just for me, a shooting star or a song coming on the radio exactly when I needed it, that reminded me He is there and He knows me.

But at the same time, He’s telling me to finally start looking outward, to stop being the self-sufficient and self-obsessed person I was. This past year, I became a youth minister, something I would never have dreamed I would love as much as I do. It’s amazing to me now (and I don’t mean to sound proud, because it’s a really humbling thought) that I am actually teaching other people about God and His love. People started actually reading my blog, and I started writing for two others. I made great new friends, gained an awesome pastor, read good books, grew in confidence (though not in height… I shrunk again!) travelled, sang, laughed. I’m a new person. The old me? Gone. Who am I, that God would care so much?

I’m like you. Really. All of us wonder, I know, if we’re really lovable or if God really cares. We al have that nagging feeling that God won’t take care of us, and so we cling to our own strength as though it will keep us afloat, when, in reality, it’s an anchor that will drag us down. We want grand displays of God’s love, but don’t really notice that He works in the small things and with the small people.

The day that started my journey back to God was just days after I wrote that post about not feeling like I could ever love or be loved by God. It was such a normal day, until I made that pan of brownies that changed everything. And what a silly thing for God to pick! He could have sent angels or done some huge miracle, but He chose something innocuous and irrelevant to work wonders. That’s kinda how He works. You just have to be open to Him.  This new year, if you have any resolutions that you need to keep, let it be this one. Be open. Be broken. Be brought to the lowest point you can, cause that darkness and brokenness is where God starts to work at making you who you’re supposed to be, when all that you’ve made yourself has crumbled away.  His plan is so, so much better.

You’re loved.

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-Tani

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First Rosary Devotional- What Is The Rosary and How Do You Pray It?


Woohoo! First rosary post! Now, to clarify, these posts are actually mostly for me so that I can easily remember how I set up my own rosary when I pray. If you’d like to pray the way I do, that’s great! But you shouldn’t have to. Everyone prays differently, and the rosary is no exception to that. First, though, what is the rosary and why do we pray it? Well, it’s not a prayer of worship to Mary. In fact, it’s intensely focused on Christ and His life, viewed through the lens of Mary. As for those who might say that it’s vain repetition, the Rosary, when done well, should never be vain or empty. Rather, it should be intensely meditative and prayerful, focused completely on the events of the mystery in question and the graces that are being asked for. Instead of mindless babbling, the repetition of the prayers should gently lead us back to studying the life of Christ through the eyes and heart of His Blessed Mother, who was closer to Him than any other person.

The Rosary, according to tradition, was given to St. Dominic in 1214 A.D in a vision by Our Lady, and his followers, the Dominicans, spread the tradition around Christendom. In 1517, it is credited as being the reason that a tiny Christian fleet defeated the last great Islamic navy in the Battle of Lepanto. There is now a celebration of Mary as patroness of the battle, and she is called Our Lady of the Rosary. In 1917, Our Lady of Fatima told the three children who were receiving visions of her that she was “The Lady of the Rosary.” The rosary is often invoked as a shield of grace against Satan, and Pope Adrian VI famously  “The Rosary is the scourge of the devil.” St. Padre Pio, who we all know is one of the patrons of Surrender the Brownies, also said that, “the Rosary is THE weapon.”

How do you pray the rosary? Let’s have some graphics. Readers love graphics.

RosaryDirections

And what are the prayers?

 

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Got it so far? Ready for the fun stuff? Now, this will be the first in a series about the Rosary, one post per mystery. There are four mysteries of the rosary. These are- 

The Joyful Mysteries (which include the first events of Christ’s life, from the annunciation to the presentation in the temple.)

The Luminous Mysteries (which deal with the events of Christ’s ministry, from the Baptism in the Jordan River, until the Last Supper.)

The Sorrowful Mysteries (which take on the story of the Passion and Death of Christ, from the Agony in the Garden until the Crucifixion.)

The Glorious Mysteries (which finish the story, from the Resurrection of Jesus until the Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth.)

And yeah, that’s it for now. Expect the first post soon! Till then, I leave you with another great quote from Sr. Lucia Santos, who saw Our Lady of Fatima when she was a child in 1917.

“The Most Holy Virgin in these last times in which we live has given a new efficacy to the recitation of the Rosary to such an extent that there is no problem, no matter how difficult it is, whether temporal or above all spiritual, in the personal life of each one of us, of our families…that cannot be solved by the Rosary. There is no problem, I tell you, no matter how difficult it is, that we cannot resolve by the prayer of the Holy Rosary.” [Emphasis added]

Love to all!

-Tani

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Pestering God is OK (thoughts on Matthew 15:21-28)


Howdy, y’all! I’m typing from my sunny guest bedroom in lovely Melrose, Massachusetts, where I’m staying with my aunt for the next week. So why am I putting my vacation on pause to type on my quiet blog for a while? Because I went to mass yesterday, and heard one of my least favorite gospels and then what was possibly one of my favorite homilies. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.” Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”  The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said. He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”  “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”  Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.”

So yeah, I really never liked this gospel, taken from Matthew 15. In it, Jesus looks rude and even bigoted. The poor lady just needs help! And He ignores her! How does that fit in with the loving, powerful Christ we see everywhere else? I was confused as the priest finished the reading yesterday, but looking forward to hearing what thoughts Father Mark had to give us. To my surprise, Father started talking about prayer and desolation, a topic that I’ve written about before. What do those even have to do with anything? Well, let’s dissect the reading. Y’all know how much I love doing that.

The Prayer

So the Canaanite woman is pretty desperate, right? Her daughter is sick, tormented by demons. Nobody could help her, so she goes to this famous traveling preacher, a foreigner even, to beg for his help. With all other hopes exhausted, she falls back on someone that she’s sure can help her child. And what does Jesus do?

He ignores her.

Gosh, sounds mean, right? Jesus does not answer a word, but the woman continues to beg Him for help. Do you ever feel like God is ignoring your prayers? Like He’s staying silent while you buzz around? Why would He do that? Jesus could have fixed the woman’s daughter whenever He wanted. But He wanted to help the woman herself, too. He’s testing her faith, to see if she’ll give up at the first roadblock. Does she continue? Yes! Her faith is strong enough to keep her praying, even when it feels like nobody is listening. But wait, it gets worse!

Jesus insults her!

He all but calls her a dog! Ouch! Shouldn’t this be the point where she gives up because she doesn’t have the instant answer she wanted? I hear from a lot of friends going through tough times that they feel like God is out to get them or that He hates them and enjoys seeing them miserable. This reading may even seem to confirm that God does that. But does it really? Couldn’t this be yet another test, yet another roadblock? Can this woman, who like most characters in the gospel is standing in for us, endure through this trial too?

Yes!

She does! And she does without complaining about unfair treatment, because she knows that even though she’s not owed a miracle, Christ can give her child healing. She responds with humor, even! And her faith is all the stronger for it.

So what does this mean for us?

This shows us that sometimes, prayer can be hard. We can feel like God is ignoring or even hating us. We can ask for what we need and feel like nothing, not even God, can help us. We might want to give up. But we should keep praying, keep pestering God, keep having faith, because that’s how God not only gives us what we need, but makes our faith and joy greater for it. He stretches us, makes us stronger, when He tests us like this. So if you’re going through desolation, through a time of trial and seemingly empty prayer, keep on praying! There is an answer coming, and the answer will help you be the person you are made to be. Be perseverant. Be faithful. Be hopeful.

Love to all!

-Tani

 

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NEW POLL! Upcoming Rosary Devotional- YOU decide the format!


So I’ve been planning for a while to write a small devotional on The Rosary. I happen to love the prayer, and have my own way of praying it which I’d like to share with y’all. But I don’t know whether to do it all at once, or do a separate post for each of the four mysteries. This poll will be open for one week, and the new post, whatever it is, should be out next week. So please please please vote! Favorite voter gets a free cookie.

Love to all!

-Tani

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Aimless Praise (Or, Why Reducing God to Feelings is Silly)


Howdy, y’all! So, as you all know, I just got back from a trip to Steubenville West, which is a really awesome youth conference held in my home state of Arizona. If you want to hear my thoughts of my conference experience, please go check out the post that I made about it on Unpleasant Accents. It’s totally worth the read. 🙂 But that’s not what I want to talk about today. Today, we’re going to talk about Praise and Worship music, feelings-based Christianity, and that most important aspect of Christianity- The Eucharist! 

At Steubenville West, we had a lot of time for praise and worship, but the most powerful time for that happened on Friday and Saturday night, when we mixed P&W music with Eucharistic Adoration. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s when the Eucharist (which Catholics believe is truly the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ) is put into a special container called a monstrance and that monstrance is placed somewhere where all the people can adore and worship Christ in it. It’s an intense and usually emotional event.

From Steubenville West last year- you see the monstrance, the worship and love on the faces of the people there? That's what adoration on Steubie looks like.

From Steubenville West last year- you see the monstrance, the worship and love on the faces of the people there? That’s what Adoration on Steubie looks like.

A common non-Christian rebuttal for Christianity is that we’re just praying to someone imaginary, something that makes us feel good, a supernatural teddy bear. And when you see this video, you should be able to see why they think that.

What are they singing to? Why do they have such intense expressions? Any Christian could easily tell you that they’re singing to and out of love for God. But that love appears aimless, shown as it is by a vague look to the sky and upraising of arms. God is an abstraction, or at best a feeling. You know you’re doing praise and worship right when your feelings tell you that you’ve connected with God, when you get that spiritual high, amiright? And that isn’t entirely false. But shouldn’t our praise and our worship be based on something more?

I guess what hit me strongest about adoration at Steubenville West was that we were singing that exact song, and yes our arms were raised (4600+ arms is a lot of limbs) but instead of being raised vaguely to the ceiling, every arm was pointed toward the Eucharist. Every person had oriented their bodies directly toward Christ, and took their worship right along with them. Instead of singing words to the empty air, every voice crooned a love song right to the physical Body of Christ. Instead of being swept away by intense feelings, every thought and emotion was intensely directed toward the meeting of creation and Creator. The praise and worship, instead of being an end in and of itself, was directed towards the Eucharist, towards Christ.

I’m going to just skip over all the usual arguments for/against P&W in church, and just say that all music, regardless of what instruments are being used, should be focused toward Christ, not toward making the listeners feel good or feel “spiritual.” Feelings don’t matter as much as recognizing and adoring Christ. And you can do that whether you’re crying tears of joy or sitting silent as a stone with your eyes on the monstrance. What all those people who say that we’re just Christians because it makes us feel good don’t realize is that real Christianity isn’t about feelings.  The feelings are just tools to help us grow closer to God, not gods themselves. You can adore God and recognize Him without feeling anything at all. And the easiest way to do that is to recognize Him in the Eucharist. Sure, He is there at Passion Conferences and in the soul of every person… but He is really, physically, perfectly present in the Bread and Wine in every Tabernacle and monstrance the world over. Learn to worship Him there, whether with music or silence, and it won’t even matter what you feel or if you feel nothing at all. But stop treating feelings as the measure of knowing God. He’s so, so, so much bigger than those.

Love to all!

-Tani

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