Friday, March 29, 2013

Redemptive Suffering - Good Friday 2013

Today, we remember the Passion and Death of our Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross. In the Catholic Church, we call this Friday before Easter 'Good Friday', and we abstain from eating meat and fast from eating large meals or snacks between meals. Having inherited my dad's metabolism, I will admit that I hate fasting. I get crabby when I'm hungry, which is a problem when you're trying to be EXTRA holy as you remember how your Lord and Savior died an agonizing death for you.
In January of this year, I finished reading the book Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. My final paper had to be about the theme of redemptive suffering in the novel, and I was stuck. I had no idea how to define 'redemptive suffering'. In my head it kind of made sense, but when I tried to write about it, I felt like an idiot. I just couldn't wrap my mind around it.
Remember, I'm the one who dislikes fasting because it does its job in helping me feel more united to Christ's suffering on the Cross. 
This was my final literature paper for my first semester of senior year, and I wanted to blow it out of the water. So I took a pen and a notebook with me to youth group on Wednesday night and basically dumped the entire thing into my priest's lap. And, being the ridiculously generous guy that he is, Fr. Jeremy spent an hour and a half talking to me about my paper, Crime and Punishment (which he had never even read), and redemptive suffering. All but two people left while I talked to him, which I felt kind of bad about. Apparently most teenagers aren't freakishly philosophical (or home schooled).
Thanks to Fr. Jeremy, I accomplished my goal: I blew my paper out of the water. I printed him a copy and gave it to him, and he said, "Very impressive for a junior in high school,"
My heart sank. "I'm a senior."
"Really!? Well, it's very good for a senior in high school!"

Now, why am I recounting this? Because through writing that paper, I came to understand a little better WHY we fast on Good Friday, and why we recall the horrifically gruesome death that Jesus died. In the summer of 2012, while I was on a retreat, I was praying before the Blessed Sacrament and I felt compelled to tell Jesus, "I give my life to You, because YOU are worth dying for!"
And Jesus replied, in the depths of my soul, "Yes. And you needed to know that. But what is more important is that you are worth dying for. I made you worth dying for, and I did." 
Jesus' sacrifice on the Cross was not an impersonal event in history. It transformed everything; life, death, and yes, suffering. Christ, in redeeming all of mankind, also redeemed suffering. He made suffering something that could purify us, and save us. 

Here is my paper on the theme of redemptive suffering in Crime and Punishment. I am very proud of it because I fought for it. I have never worked as hard on any paper as I did on this one, mainly because I didn't understand how suffering could redeem me, and I wanted to. 

Literature Qtr 2 Week 7 Paper

            In Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s masterpiece, Crime and Punishment, the reader is taken through an inside-out murder mystery, where you know everything about the crime and the criminal from Book One. The main character and murderer, Raskolnikov, is tormented by his desire to shape history rather than being shaped by it. This self-imposed suffering within him causes him to lash out and murder two innocent women to try and prove he is ‘a man of greatness’. Raskolnikov’s story is a difficult one to read because it is riddled with evil and suffering that seems meaningless and insane. However, the central theme of Crime and Punishment is that suffering can be redemptive, and this is embodied by the young Sonia Marmeladov, who was forced into prostitution by her stepmother yet still carries the divine light of God’s love inside of her.
Redemptive suffering occurs when a person is open to the love of God, and can therefore unite their own sufferings to Christ’s on the cross, which is transformative for their soul or for the soul of another. In Crime and Punishment, there is no lack of suffering, be it emotional, mental, physical, or spiritual. Raskolnikov suffers mentally and spiritually from his disordered desire for greatness. The drunken Marmeladov suffers physically from his addiction which he cannot control but regrets immensely, and drags his destitute family down with him. The depraved Svidrigailov, who tries to seduce Raskolnikov’s sister Dunia, suffers emotionally from regret and a crippling fear of death that he overcomes only to kill himself. It would be easy to say that Crime and Punishment has a theme of redemptive suffering if the main character was pious and humble in his pain, but Raskolnikov is a proud sinner who believes up until the final page that his crime was justifiable and his suffering worthless. How, then, could all this suffering, which resembles insanity more than anything else, ever redeem anyone?
In Dr. Alan White’s talk on Dostoyevsky’s writing, Dr. White says that Dostoyevsky held that there is no redemption outside of Christ, and that this redemption must come through suffering. But the notion of suffering as a positive thing, let alone a redemptive thing, is a difficult idea to get one’s mind around. This is especially because redemptive suffering can be taken to an unhealthy extreme, and it is, even in Crime and Punishment itself. The painter Nikolay Dementiev is suspected of the murders that Raskolnikov committed, and Nikolay goes so far as to confess that he is the murderer, to end the torment of suspicion, and to take on the suffering of another man. To purposefully seek out physical suffering, through self-mutilation or trying to dishonestly take on another’s guilt as Nikolay does, is not redemptive, because it is done without love. When Raskolnikov believes his suffering is worthless, he is right, because suffering in and of itself, without love, is lunacy.
The theme of suffering in Crime and Punishment that is redemptive, in my opinion, lies within the prostitute Sonia. She is not fully culpable for her crime of prostitution because she was literally forced into it to provide financial support for her family. This innocent young woman suffers unspeakably from her life as a street-walker, because it requires her to partially extinguish her own divine light every single day. But Sonia is redeemed in her suffering unlike any other. She suffers to try and relieve the suffering of others, but not at the expense of her soul, as Nikolay does out of fear. She suffers in and with Christ, abiding in His love, and clinging to faith in God and His mercy when everyone else sees in her situation only shame and despair. After Raskolnikov confesses his crime and is sentenced to eight years of labor in Siberia, Sonia follows him and offers every moment of suffering she experiences in serving him that his soul may be saved. She unites her suffering to Christ, and it takes on a redemptive power.
Finally, if it is true that redemptive suffering is the central theme of Crime and Punishment, it only makes sense that the main character would be touched by it. Is he? Is Raskolnikov redeemed by his great and terrible suffering, especially because he, for the most part, brought it willfully upon himself? Perhaps a more important question, if the murderous Raskolnikov really can be redeemed, is this: What redeems him? I personally do not believe that Raskolnikov’s own suffering was redemptive for him at all. It hardens him and makes him bitter to a point where he is numb and purely apathetic towards life itself. What redeems him is love; Sonia’s love, the love with which she suffers. He is transformed slowly by love for Sonia, which turns not his suffering, but her suffering, into something that will make a new man of him. This redemption and transformation takes a long time to flower within the murderer’s heart; it seems for most of the book that Raskolnikov is beyond the reach of God’s grace entirely. Sonia patiently loves him even though she is terrified and saddened by him, and it is her humility, love, and persistence that redeem Raskolnikov. Sonia is the one whom redemptive suffering works through. She is the lantern by which God bears His divine life, and the redemption of the Cross, to the sinner’s heart.
The redemptive power of suffering is a message riddled throughout Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, but it is found mainly within one woman only. It is difficult to imagine a group more saturated in sinfulness, or people who suffer more horrifically, than the cast of Crime and Punishment. Suffering is a terrible evil, but it can relieve the temporal punishment for the even greater evil of sin. Though the idea of redemptive suffering is a difficult and mysterious one, it is a reality. It is nothing to ignore, this wondrous idea, that a murderer like Raskolnikov could find redemption, especially through suffering; the suffering of the woman who loved him.

May God bless you and keep you this Good Friday 2013!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Man Who Was Thursday, Final Paper Assignment

Hello everyone! I owe this blog a post. It is now Holy Week...we are days away from Easter! Yay!
Yesterday I finally finished my last assignment for G. K. Chesterton's short novel, The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare. It took me a really long time to figure out my paper topic, and now that it is complete, I'm very proud of it and wanted to share it with you. Enjoy!

Literature Qtr 3 Week 7 Paper

G. K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare, is the story of seven anarchists who are not really anarchists. The driving force behind the action, terror, mystery and drama of the story is the giant, mysterious gentleman called Sunday. However, we never really know what or who Sunday is. We know he is the leader of the famed and feared Seven Days Council and gathers the heroic detectives who represent the days of the week, making them believe each of the others is a murderous anarchist. At the same time, Sunday is the wise and kind “man in the dark” who called each of the detectives into the police force. Because Sunday is the one thing we never have answers about but the thing we desire most to understand, I believe that Chesterton means what he says in subtitling the story A Nightmare, and that Sunday’s role lies in his possession of the truly nightmarish essence of the tale.
At the end of The Man Who Was Thursday, all seven men are gathered together and dressed in beautiful robes that represent the day of Creation they stand for. Sunday is the Sabbath, the day God rested. He tells the detectives that he is “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.” When his back is turned, he seems terrifying, and evil. Face to face, he is still terrifying because of his massiveness, but there is something about his face that makes all of the detectives think of the good. Because Sunday seems to mirror the incomprehensible vastness of God, many people believed that his role in the story is that of a Deity. But Chesterton, in an article published in the Illustrated London News, explained that this was not the truth. “It was a very melodramatic sort of moonshine, but it had a kind of notion in it; and the point is that it described, first a band of the last champions of order fighting against what appeared to be a world of anarchy, and then the discovery that the mysterious master both of the anarchy and the order was the same sort of elemental elf who had appeared to be rather too like a pantomime ogre.  This line of logic, or lunacy, led many to infer that this equivocal being was meant for a serious description of the Deity; and my work even enjoyed a temporary respect among those who like the Deity to be so described. But this error was entirely due to the fact that they had read the book but had not read the title page. The book was called The Man Who Was Thursday:  A Nightmare.”
That is not to say that the story has no meaning, though Chesterton wrote it to have the discordance and confusion of a nightmare. Throughout The Man Who Was Thursday, the main characters are repeatedly faced with what at first seems to be true evil. But every time, they find there is just a clever trick or a simple misunderstanding that reveals that what they thought was evil is really good. Many people might believe that, by this, Chesterton means to say that evil does not exist; it is only a mask that good sometimes wears. But this is not the case. What Chesterton illustrates in this is that the power of evil means nothing. It would not matter if all but a few good men were left in the world; the greatest power of evil is weaker than the weakest power of good. This partially explains the role of Sunday; he’s supposed to scare us, confuse us, surprise us, and then leave us guessing. Although he could manipulate the detectives, we see that he had no power to harm them. Evil is real, and it can be corruptive and harmful, but evil has no power over us until we welcome it.
In conclusion, The Man Who Was Thursday only makes sense when we look at it as a nightmare. It is a fantastic and funny tale, with heroism and courage and wonderful characters. But Chesterton did not write it to be a funny mystery story. The story is not a good dream; it is a nightmare. Chesterton said of this perplexing masterpiece of his, “It was not intended to describe the real world as it was, or as I thought it was, even when my thoughts were considerably less settled than they are now. It was intended to describe the world of wild doubt and despair which the pessimists were generally describing at that date; with just a gleam of hope in some double meaning of the doubt, which even the pessimists felt in some fitful fashion.” Sunday is, therefore, the embodiment of this ‘wild doubt and despair’ with ‘just a gleam of hope’, the vehicle for Chesterton’s intentions in writing such an imaginative story.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Never Gone Cover, Melina B.

Once again, Melina has done an amazing cover of an amazing song! This one is for a Youtube contest, so I offered to shamelessly promote her. I had never heard the song Never Gone by Colton Dixon before (which is a shame because it's amazing!), so I looked it up after I listened to Melina's version.

I actually like her's better! I still love Colton Dixon's original, but her acoustic cover was so impressive, beautiful and passionate to me. So give her a listen and pray for her; she will be serving with NET Ministries starting in August, and she's trying to get into the Christian music industry someday.

God bless you Melina, and good luck! : )

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Habemus Papam!

We have a Pope!!

Pope Francis I!

I am so excited.

This morning, I got up at 5:15 in order to be at my parish priest's house at 5:45 a. m. so that we could see what color the smoke was at 6 a. m. As some of you may know, it was black. So our youth group hung out for a little while, chatting and eating donuts and drinking coffee. Than my sister and I walked home and went on with our day.

After lunch, I was in my room about to start another school assignment, when my sister received a text. She gasped, and said, "Do we have a Pope!?"
Indeed we did! White smoke was pouring out of the chimney above the Sistine Chapel, and soon five of us were crowded around one iPod, dying to find out who our new Papa was going to be. 

About thirty minutes before Pope Francis came out, we got another text from a girl in our youth group. Everyone was back at Father's house! We raced over there to watch it together. We prayed for the new pope, whoever he was, and pondered who he might be. Of course we hoped he might be an American, but when the doors opened, nothing else mattered. We had a new Papa.

When Pope Benedict XVI Emeritus was being elected, I remember hoping the new pope would be named Francis. Now, he is. 

Please, please, PLEASE join my in praying for Pope Francis to be the greatest Papa he can be! This world needs a Pope who can love fearlessly and show US how to love fearlessly!

Oh God, pour forth your blessings upon Pope Francis I. Make him holy. Make him like You. Make him a saint who can help us grow in holiness and truth above all else. 
St. Francis of Assisi, please bless and protect your Brother in Christ, Pope Francis, who has taken your name as he steps up to guide the Church as Shepherd. 
Through the intercession of Pope Blessed John Paul II, Pope Blessed John XXIII, Mary Queen of Heaven, and all the Angels and Saints, I pray, Amen.  

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Poison and Wine, The Civil Wars

I just found this song yesterday in a video I was watching on Youtube, and I was perplexed by it, even though I immediately loved it. The music is gorgeous, and I already appreciated the The Civil Wars' epic harmonies from when they were featured in Taylor Swift's song, Safe and Sound. The verses are really beautiful. What confused me was the refrain: Oh I don't love you but I always will.

Trying to find some answers as to what The Civil Wars meant by this line, I Googled it, and found a really interesting article interviewing the two members of the band, John Paul White and Joy Williams:

When you performed in NYC last summer you were promoting the Poison and Wine EP, which came out in late 2009.  The title track is so powerful and speaks of relationships in such an honest way.  You are both married to other people, yet you write with so much chemistry. Do you find writing with someone who isn’t your significant other to be somewhat therapeutic?
John Paul: When we come into a writing session it’s a bit like therapy.  We can talk about things, and because we are married to other people we have a lot of the same things going on in our lives with relationships- the good, bad and ugly.  If we were in a relationship there would be certain things that would be forbidden for us to write and talk about.  There are things that we can say [to each other] that sometimes you may reserve because you don’t know how it will be taken and you don’t want to let the cat out of the bag about how you really feel.  We can say to each other, “Alright what would you scream into someone’s face if you knew they would never hear it?”
Joy: That’s Poison and Wine.
John Paul: It’s all those little things you would love to say but you really don’t want to be heard.  We do that with a lot of our songs.  Some are completely inspired by events in movies or art that we’ve seen, or books we’ve read, but some of it we pull from our own personal lives.  We just keep to ourselves which is which. source

I thought that was some really cool insight, and helped me to understand the song a little better.
I can't say whether or not there is some hidden meaning behind this song, but at face value, I find it be very convicting. It paints a really heartfelt portrait of how as a human being, I do not treat the people who should mean the most to me as well as they deserve. I recognize that sometimes I say and do things that hurt people I love. Sometimes I choose not to love them. But I always will. 

Friday, March 1, 2013

Into the Woods

The Gist:

On February 16th I went to see my favorite musical in the entire world: Into the Woods! I saw Into the Woods Jr. several years ago, which is only the first half of the musical, and last year I rediscovered it and watched the entire thing online. That was when I learned that half my favorite characters die in the second act (ironic, right?). I own the London Cast Recording soundtrack and listen to it regularly. I know most of the songs by heart and go around the house singing them.
When I heard the theater group in my dad's hometown was putting it on, I came very close to freaking out and asked off work to make sure that I could go.

The Performance:

It was amazing. Even more so than any other performance of Into the Woods, I'd venture to say, because this particular acting group takes no shortcuts and demands performance quality like nobody else. It was also cool that one of the girl's I know played the role I would want if I were ever to be in it: Jack's mother, from Jack and the Beanstalk! She's a no-nonsense lady who overreacts to a lot of things, and in the second act she gets to die dramatically. Fabulous.

Why I Love It:

I love this musical for a lot of reasons. The first and foremost reason is probably because it is based on all my favorite fairy tales. Other reasons include: The music is fantastic, the characters are lovable, the plot is creative and unexpected, it makes you laugh, it makes you cry, and it teaches you many valuable lessons, including: "Wishes come true, not free."

Favorite Characters:

I have a lot of favorite characters from this musical: Rapunzel (of course), the Baker and his Wife, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack, Cinderella, and The Mysterious Old Man (yep, that's his name).

Why I Don't Love It:

Of course, there are also elements to it I don't like. The Baker's Wife insists that "The ends justify the means." Three of the characters are unfaithful to their spouses in the second act. Parts of it suggest that there is no such thing as absolute truth and everyone must decide what is right or wrong for themselves, which I disagree with.

But without these elements, the musical might seem idealistic and difficult to relate to. The characters are profoundly flawed; they are dishonest, cowardly, selfish, manipulative, unfaithful, and vengeful. But they are also kind, generous, loyal, brave, adventurous and passionate. They choose to be both good and bad, and suffer the consequences of their choices.

Favorite Parts:

Act I:
I love the entire first act. It is just perfectly precious in every way. But to name a favorite scene...probably when to Baker steals Little Red Riding Hood's cloak and she screams until he gives it back. So funny. I also love the Witch...she's pretty fabulous and has some great one-liners.
The song Giants in the Sky is probably my favorite in Act I, and I also love I Know Things Now.

Act II:
After a giant storms through the kingdom and destroys everything, the Baker and his Wife are trying to get Little Red Riding Hood safely home. She says, "Mother said never to stray from the path!" The Baker replies, "The path has strayed from you,"
There is one line in which the witch (the villain) grows angry with the remaining characters and tells them, "You're so nice! You're not good, you're not  bad, you're just NICE!" I like this line because I feel like it applies to me and makes me want to be better. Sometimes I'm not good or even bad, I'm just nice. And as Little Red Riding Hood says, "Nice is different than good!" 
After that, the two songs No More and No One Is Alone are just so achingly beautiful. The ending is really bittersweet, but I'm always left with a sense that the characters who survived have learned from all the terrible things that happened and will do better from then on.


On our drive home, my dad and I had a long discussion about the musical, particularly the moral aspects of it. We agreed that if there hadn't been things in it that were wrong, we wouldn't understand how good some of the elements of it are, or be able to discuss so much about it.

Bottom Line: 

This is and will probably always be my favorite musical, and it was a total treat to see it performed live by some of my favorite actors and actresses!