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Posted by on Sep 27, 2009

“Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink…”

“Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink…”

Sharing water

Today’s reading from the Gospel of Mark (Twenty-sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle B) is one of the more challenging ones. Jesus’ disciples have been struggling to figure out what it really means to be great in the Kingdom, to be a follower of Jesus, and what kind of exclusivity pertains to their role as His followers. John tells Jesus that someone who is not one of their group is driving out demons in Jesus’ name. Jesus’ followers are trying to get the man to stop doing it – he’s not authorized to use the power – almost as if it were under trademark protection or something. Jesus assures them that anyone not actively against them is for them, so it’s OK for the other person to cast out demons using Jesus’ name (a term also meaning power and authority). He continues, “Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.” (Mk 9:41)

The reading goes on to include Jesus’ teachings about removing things from our lives that get in the way of a free, loving  response to God’s presence and call  in our lives. It’s very dramatic in its images – plucking out an eye, or cutting off a hand or foot! But sometimes those physical actions might actually be easier than the spiritual work that is really required. Forgiving someone who has hurt us deeply, trusting again, giving freely of our time, talents and treasure when those gifts were not accepted graciously the last time we offered them, moving forward in faith when danger is all around and there seems no way that good can prevail… All in all, a couple of challenging passages.

Yet this year, the twenty-sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time coincides with the feast of St. Vincent de Paul.  And that has been on my mind all day today. Here was a man who took to heart the teaching that whatever is given to someone who belongs to Christ is given to Christ. Furthermore, he truly believed that whatever was given to the least of God’s children, was given to Christ. And he set about organizing groups of people, to care for those “children” of God, as well as working with political and religious leaders to change social and religious structures of oppression.

The work goes on today, some four hundred years after the time St. Vincent de Paul began his work. There are still oppressive social structures. People still struggle to survive. Many in the world go to bed hungry after spending all day hungry as well. Health care is not guaranteed to all. Education is not available to all children. Decent housing and clothing are not assured to all, even in the United States, the richest, most powerful nation in the world.

Still, we have Jesus’ promise and reassurance. “Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ … will surely not lose his reward.” May we also be ones who give that cup of water to drink to others who belong to Christ, in all the beautiful and all the distressing forms in which they come to us.

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Posted by on Sep 8, 2009

The Birthday of Mary – September 8

The Birthday of Mary – September 8

Russian Icon of the Birth of Mary

Russian Icon of the Birth of Mary

The birthday of the mother of Jesus, Mary, daughter of Joachim and Ann, is celebrated on September 8. It is an ancient feast, dating from the fifth century dedication of a church in Jerusalem. The church is known today as the basilica of St. Ann, mother of Mary. The feast is celebrated both in the Eastern and Western churches. 

In honor of her birthday, I offer what is perhaps her second most famous prayer, a prayer banned even in our times by despots and dictators who feared its power to inspire hope, courage and trust in God’s goodness and love of the poor and oppressed. May this be our prayer too.

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;

                my spirit rejoices in God my savior.

For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;

                behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.

The Mighty One has done great things for me,

                and holy is his name.

His mercy is from age to age

                to those who fear him.

He has shown might with his arm,

                dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.

He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones

                but lifted up the lowly.

The hungry he has filled with good things;

                the rich he has sent away empty.

He has helped Israel his servant,

                remembering his mercy,

according to his promise to our fathers,

                to Abraham and to his descendants forever.

(Lk 1:46-55)

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Posted by on Jun 14, 2009

The Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ

The Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ

Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam

Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam

Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam. offered some interesting thoughts about the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ (AKA Corpus Christi) today in his homily and his blog. He has graciously agreed to allow me to share them in a post for this feast.

The Inner Meaning

During this time of year when there are so many of our rites of passage taking place––weddings, graduations, ordinations (even birthdays)––it’s interesting to take a look at the purpose of ritual. Anthropologically speaking, a ritual is a way of expressing and passing on our understanding of reality or of an experience to someone else. So, for instance, a graduation is not about a piece of paper and a cap and gown: it’s weightier, it’s heavy; that’s why tears flow from the eyes of parents as they see their child graduate or get married. The ritual is trying to carry all those memories and meanings, and summarize them in a single gesture: an exchange of rings, the laying on of hands, a birthday card, an embrace, throwing a shovelful of dirt on a coffin: all these rituals mean more than they mean, they carry an almost indescribable load of treasures.

In the Roman rite we celebrate the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ this week, and it’s safe to ask what Jesus was trying to convey to his disciples when he performed this rather odd ritual––not just breaking the bread and passing out the cup, but claiming that it was his very self. What exactly was he asking them to remember when they did it over and over again? I thought of five things, which certainly don’t exhaust the list of possible meanings.

1. First of all, this gesture looks backward and forward at Jesus’own life. Backward in that Jesus’ whole life had been spent being broken and passed out; his whole life had been dedicated to feeding those around him: taking care of their bodily needs through healing and feeding; and also feeding and healing them in a real way with the Wisdom of God, this incredible good news of God’s undying boundless care for every single hair on the head of very single human being from the greatest to––especially––the least. This ritual also looked ahead to the next day when Jesus allowed his body to be broken like bread and his blood poured out like wine––to say that it’s alright: you can survive even this, your real self cannot be annihilated, but like a seed that falls into the earth and dies it will yield a rich harvest of resurrection life.

2. This ritual symbolized––again what Jesus’ whole life symbolized––that Divine Love gives itself to humanity––that’s what God is like! The Divine is present, really present: divine love is offering itself to the world in this ritual meal.

3. This ritual also conveyed (and conveys) that this Divine Mystery is present everywhere, in creation, “in the earth and its produce.” Unfortunately the kind of hosts we use and our ornate chalices can actually hide the fact that this is actually wheat and grapes, real food: “which earth had given,” as we say, “fruit of the earth.” I think that this conveys that all matter is meant to be brought into right relationship with God, and that all matter can reveal and be a vehicle for the Grace of God. St Irenaeus wrote,

    “This is why he took a part of creation, gave thanks and said: This is my body. In the same way he declared that the cup, an element of the same creation as ourselves, was his blood: he taught them that this was the new sacrifice of the new covenant.” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies)

But we add a line to the prayer over the gifts: it’s not just what ”the earth has given,” or “the fruit of the earth”; it’s also the work of human hands. There is a beautiful prayer of Teihard de Chardin:

    I, your priest, will make the whole earth my altar––
    And on it I will offer you all the labors and sufferings of the world…
    I will place on the paten the harvest to be won by labor. . .
    Into my chalice I will pour all the sap which is to be pressed out this day from the Earth’s fruits.

So, the fruit of the earth and the work of our hands all become vehicles for God’s grace, all is meant to be brought into right relationship with God.

4. This ritual is also meant to convey to us that God wants us to participate in the work of creation, and in divinity itself. That’s why we pray that incredible prayer, “by the mystery of the water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who came to share in our humanity.”

5. And how do we participate? Well, that’s the last thing I want to mention that this ritual is trying to convey (though we could go on and on): it conveys that this divine mystery is especially present whenever and wherever human beings meet and share together, that God is present in every gesture of unselfish love, in every occasion of someone laying down their life for another. That’s why we read the story of the washing of the feet before we celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday.

The Hebrews didn’t need another ritual, another sacrifice; we don’t need another ritual; and God certainly didn’t and doesn’t either. The prophets leading up to Jesus kept telling the people how God was sick of their sacrifices and rituals! Jesus himself quotes the prophet Hosea twice saying: “Go and learn the meaning of these words, ‘It is love that I desire, not sacrifice. Knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.’”

The church, and this ritual, has no other purpose but to communicate and convey and reveal that––the love and knowledge of God that is hidden in the heart of creation and poured into the center of every human being as our very source and our ground. This is what we will be judged on as a church, as individuals, as communities and as a whole: not the forms of our rituals and doctrines, but by the reality of the love and knowledge of God that we manifest.

Bede Griffiths wrote that: “All myth and ritual, all doctrine and sacrament, is but a means to awaken our souls to this hidden mystery, to allow the divine presence to make itself known.”

So: as we participate in this ritual, as we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, and/or when we gaze at the reserved Blessed Sacrament in the Tabernacle or in a monstrance, let’s remember how weighty it is, how much it carries and conveys. And let’s especially pray that it would awaken us to the mystery of the knowledge of God, and the love of God that is poured into our hearts, so that we might make it manifest in our world, so that we might be the body and blood of Christ––that we might be broken and poured out for the sake of the world as Jesus was.

cyprian
14 june 09

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Posted by on Jun 5, 2009

The Feast of Pentecost and the Age of the Holy Spirit

The Feast of Pentecost and the Age of the Holy Spirit

Eastern Orthodox Icon of Pentecost

Eastern Orthodox Icon of Pentecost

The Feast of Pentecost falls 50 days after Easter. Pentecost was originally a celebration of the first harvest and people came to Jerusalem from all over the known world to celebrate the feast.

For people in northern climes, the thought of a first harvest celebration in Spring may sound strange. After all, the snow has barely melted and crops are nowhere near ready to harvest. Even early crops like strawberries and lettuce aren’t ready yet. Nevertheless, in the Middle East, and by extension in that general latitude around the globe, many crops have already been harvested. Just go to a grocery store and you’ll see the fruits of our fields waiting for your table!

Within the Church, we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the disciples – men and women who had been friends, family and followers of Jesus. This outpouring of the Spirit of God, the God Who is Love, gave birth to the Christian community that endures to this day. Jesus’ friends and followers were transformed from frightened “mice” into fearless “lions” who proclaimed boldly that Jesus had been raised from the dead, that He is the long awaited Christ, that God has made Him both Lord and Savior, that a new age has dawned and the Kingdom of God has begun.

These early disciples wasted no time in putting their beliefs into action. They shared what they had. They cared for and healed the sick. They took care of widows and orphans – the powerless ones of their society. They recognized the gifts of women who were leaders in their communities. They spread the Good News of the Lord to all who would listen. And they struggled to understand the implications for themselves and their society of the Good News and the freedom of God’s children. Who were God’s chosen ones? Who could be followers of the Way? What parts of the Law were non-Jews required to obey? How can the pastoral needs of the community be met? Who will look out for the powerless ones in our own communities? How do we choose leaders for our communities? How should Christian family members behave with each other?

For nearly 2000 years we have dealt with these issues as a community. Today we still face many of them, though in a much wider context, as a global, international community that includes peoples of all cultures. More than ever we must count on the continued outpouring of the Spirit to guide us and make us bold witnesses to the Good News.

Much of what we take for granted today is the result of the work of Christians who actively put their beliefs into practice and stepped out to make their part of the world a better place. Institutions such as hospitals, schools for poor and even middle-class children, education for girls, social safety nets, and many others have resulted from the Christian insight that God cares about all humans, even those who traditionally have been excluded.

The Christian belief that all receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit in Baptism and Confirmation also leads to the understanding that all are responsible to share the gifts they have received and bear fruit in their lives. Together we listen to the Spirit and share in the development and shaping of both our Church community and the world.

As we move through these days following Pentecost, we face many challenges. It’s a time of global financial challenges. Governments are moving quickly to try to minimize the harmful effects of the banking crisis on their people. Social service agencies and churches are struggling to offer aid to the increasing numbers of people coming to their doors. Here in California there’s talk of dismantling all state funded social services, including health care programs for children of low income families and the welfare to work programs that helped so many families keep roofs over their heads and food on their tables.

What will we as children of God, brothers and sisters, do to address these challenges in our communities, states and countries? Will we say, as so many do, “It’s not my responsiblity to care for the children of the poor. Why don’t their parents just go get jobs?” Will we say, “Don’t ask me to pay more taxes. I shouldn’t have to cut back my lifestyle to pay for other people’s mistakes.” Will we sit in judgement of people who are losing their homes because they lost their jobs? Will we smugly assume that we’ve saved enough money to keep us safe if we get ill or lose a job? Will we criticize the people who lost their savings to the stock market when the money should have been somewhere safer? I hope not.

This year the time from Pentecost onward can be a time in which we truly listen to the Holy Spirit’s call to build up the Kingdom by caring for the poor, the powerless, those who are ill and who are losing their security (whether as a result of their own errors or those of others). It’s a time to trust that if we give of what we have, share from our abundance or our need, God will make sure that our needs are met. Our ethic of life must include not only the unborn but also those who are here and in need. Womb to tomb includes all those days in-between as well. Let’s not forget that as a Church community.

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Posted by on May 21, 2009

The Feast of the Ascension

The Feast of the Ascension

Ascension

Ascension

The Feast of the Ascension traditionally occurs 40 days after Easter. Since it falls on a Thursday, it’s often called Ascension Thursday.

Recently, with the transition of our work lives from an older, more flexible agrarian routine to modern industrialization’s insistance on time clocks, 24/7 availability of services, and the challenges of two income households, child care, school schedules and after school activities, taking time as a community of faith to stop and celebrate this feast has become a luxury available only to the fortunate few. Recognizing this reality in the lives of the faithful, bishops in many dioceses have allowed celebration of the feast to be moved to the Sunday before Pentecost. To the extent that this allows more people to be consciously aware of and celebrate the feast, I see this as a good step. Nevertheless, it is important to note that the feast actually falls today.

The feast of the Ascension marks the day on which Jesus was taken up to heaven (Lk 24:50-53). After the Resurrection, Jesus appeared on many occasions to his followers. He continued to teach them and explain all that had happened through His passion and why it had to happen as it did. At the end of both the Gospels of Mark and of Luke, as well as the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, we are told that Jesus instructed His followers to go out as witnesses of all they had seen and heard, calling all peoples to turn from sin and accept baptism and the forgiving love of God. Then Jesus told His followers just before He was taken from their sight, to go back to Jerusalem and pray, waiting to receive the “promise of the Father” (Acts 1:4), the Holy Spirit who would give them power from on high to become His witnesses.

These events happened nine days before the Jewish feast of Pentecost. The apostles, Mary and other followers of Jesus did indeed return to Jerusalem. They gathered in the upper room where they had been staying after the Resurrection and devoted themselves to prayer. (They also took care of some administrative details – including selecting another person to take the place of Judas Iscariot. But that’s another part of the story not critical to today’s feast!)

On the feast of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out on them and the Church was born as Peter and the others fearlessly stepped out and witnessed to the world regarding all they had seen and experienced. The time of the Holy Spirit had begun.

A particularly important thing to remember regarding the Ascension, is that it is the beginning of a period of prayer for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit – a period of prayer mandated by Jesus Himself.

Since those early times in the church, we have developed a tradition of novenas, nine days of prayer with a particular focus or request. Typically the novena is addressed to a specific saint, requesting the saint’s intercession with God – much like asking a big brother or sister for help with a problem.

In the case of this first novena, the focus was much more direct. The novena from the Ascension to Pentecost is addressed directly to the Holy Spirit. With the early followers of Jesus, we too can pray for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit into our lives and world.

Imagine what could happen if we truly believe that we are to go out and be His witnesses — speaking His words of challenge and comfort, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, caring for the sick, acting as if a better world could really exist and all could really love and care for each other! This can only happen if we are filled with the Holy Spirit, clothed in power from on high. It is a daunting calling, but one that is implicit in our baptism and confirmation. We sing the ancient hymn, “Come Holy Ghost, Creator blest, and in our hearts take up thy rest…” It’s a beautiful prayer and truly dangerous if we take it to heart, meaing and believing what we are asking.

A younger hymn, from Zimbabwe, is also particularly appropriate for our novena to the Holy Spirit in these coming nine days. “If you believe and I believe and we together pray, the Holy Spirit must come down and set God’s people free. And set God’s people free, and set God’s people free; The Holy Spirit must come down and set God’s people free.” Free to be His witnesses — His hands, feet, voice and heart in our world.

Let’s again join together in these coming days to ask the Holy Spirit for a new outpouring of power into our lives and times. Pray with me with hope and confidence, trusting that with God’s help everything is possible, because “If you believe and I believe and we together pray, the Holy Spirit must (will) come down and set God’s people free.”

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Posted by on Apr 29, 2009

Emmaus: Pre and Post Christian

Emmaus: Pre and Post Christian

The supper at Emmaus' (1958) by Ceri Richards (1903-1970)

The supper at Emmaus' (1958) by Ceri Richards (1903-1970)

My favorite story is the Disciples on the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24: 13-35). Michael Traynor of the Lesscoolthanyou Channel captures the experience of the disciple before the Breaking of the Bread in a way that evokes a very current state of affairs.

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Posted by on Apr 14, 2009

Easter Monday 2009: The Post Modern Blues

Easter Monday 2009: The Post Modern Blues

Borgognone 1510

Borgognone 1510

Easter time in the 21st century is a curious season. We are living in a time in which the rationality of the Enlightenment has been obliterated by the irrational violence and deconstruction of the Modern Era which ended with the creation of the atom bomb. In the 20th century we saw the the rise of the irrational as a counter to the idea of reason as the engine of human progress. Advances in science and engineering led to death on a massive scale whether in its industrial production form in the genocide of Jews and other peoples or its explosion from the sky in carpet bombing of Dresden or the incineration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The darkness within the brilliance of the human heart and mind was also manifest in the Vietnam War epic movie “Apocalypse Now” based on the theme that facing the horror of one’s evil can only lead to self destruction.

So here we are on the cusp of the third millennium. Human progress seems more of an illusion. In fact, our Post-Modern sensibility is all about the inability of reason and science to get at ultimate truth. Everything is examined and found wanting. Physics has become the study of relativity, uncertainty, and mathematical models. Religion and philosophy are the products of language we create. The scriptures of Christianity are cultural creations which tell us more of the people who wrote them. They are robbed of their revelation.

Human romance and love are reduced to methods for the socio-biological dispersion of one’s genetic load. Religious experience is suspect because there is no way to know whether one is just engaging in psychological projection to create a hideout from the ultimate reality of the purposelessness of human existence. We are here by virtue of  a cosmic accident with a very low probability.

In our world, there is the torture and death of Good Friday but there is no need for a Resurrection or any life beyond our current suffering because it is not possible since we can never know the nature anything beyond nature with any certainty. So here is the greatest event of all human history and our greatest personal hope – the Resurrection and it is a non-event on a beautiful spring day that is to be borne with a grim courage in a time when miracles cannot happen.

The news is too good. Maybe that is why we are stuck on the Friday of Crucifixion. The pain we know is better than risking its loss in the certain joy of Resurrection. As people of the Resurrection we would have to leave too much behind – hurt, anger, fear, and death.

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Posted by on Apr 12, 2009

Resurrection Sunday – 2009: Jesus Did Not Die for Me

Resurrection Sunday – 2009: Jesus Did Not Die for Me

Resurrection of Christ - Mikhail Nesterov (late 1890s)

Resurrection of Christ - Mikhail Nesterov (late 1890s)

Jesús No Murio Por Mi

Jesus Did Not Die for Me

Holy Weekend
The time of customary rituals
Of words spoken a thousand times
A season of the silence of death
Fasting, resolutions, and processions
A time of self-contained euphoria
As it seems sin sees the ending
We already know
and will flood all with life
A shallow season of hypocrisy
“Happy Easter”

A season of churches in a thousand different ways
yet a thousand ways the same
Cannot say other than what they have always said
“Jesus died for our salvation”
But “You know what?”
Jesus didn’t die for me
Jesus died because of cowardice,
greed, arrogance, love of power
by those who did not understand his message
by those afraid of the new
by those who had made a god to their own stature
by those who did not accept his offer of life to the full
not for just a few but for all men and women.
That death did not save anybody
Not even those who believed that they are saved by Jesus.

What saved me and you
And continues to save
Is that Jesus who became a person
Who identified with the people
Who was a baby and cried,
Who was a boy and played
Who grew and worked
Who was called to a mission and took it on
Who paused before the pain of men and women
Who in solidarity of gestures, words, and actions
Who did not silence what had to be said
And who though fearful, moved ahead
out of love, sheer love.

It was not his death, so cruel and unjust.
It was his life!
If death can be salvation
Whan can resurrection mean?
What sense does it make to celebrate Easter?
Death does not save
Even if it scandalizes theology
Life saves.
That is why resurrection is the great cry,
The lead story, the great news of our time
For this the stone rolls aways, the tomb opens
And foot steps are heard in the garden

God raises up Jesus
To condemn death forever
To announce that Life has won out
and that faith in the this Jesus who lives
who conquers the mercenaries of terror
is the faith that saves and
is the faith that makes us free.
What Peter said with such clarity
“This same Jesus whom you crucified
God has made Messiah and Lord”.

Jesus did not die for me.
They killed Jesus!
Jesus died because they tortured him in a blind rage
Because they wanted to shut him up and make him disappear
And because the powerful have always killed Him.

Yes, Jesus was born for me.
He also lived for me,
He taught, healed, pardoned, loved and rose again for me
for you and and for everyone.

Jesus did not die for me
nor for you nor anyone else
Perhaps, some day
We will stop honoring his death
In order to begin celebrating His LIFE.

Gerardo Oberman

translated by Randolfo R. Pozos 2009

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Posted by on Apr 3, 2009

Obama at Notre Dame: Why the Catholic Right is Wrong

Obama at Notre Dame: Why the Catholic Right is Wrong

notre-dame-indiana-dome1

The Cardinal Newman Society has launched a petition drive objecting to President Barack Obama’s appearance at Notre Dame University’s commencement this year. Here is another approach to the issue.

George B. York III sent this letter to the National Catholic Reporter. It is presented here by permission of the author.

God and Man at Notre Dame

Notre Dame’s President, Fr. Jenkins, has extended
an invitation to President Obama to speak on
campus; the President has accepted. Some object,
asking, How could the President of Notre Dame
compromise with abortion? Closely observing
Jesus’ behavior in the Gospel of Luke, (7:40 and
following), I find Fr.Jenkins’ position consistent
with Jesus’ behavior, and in no way a compromise
with abortion.

In the story of Jesus’ evening in Simon’s
house an outsider, a woman, washes Jesus’ feet
with her tears and dries them with her hair. Simon
thinks, `Doesn’t he know what kind of woman she
is?’ Knowing what Simon is thinking, Jesus
surprises him by simply pointing to ways in which
Simon did not welcome Jesus; in so doing, Jesus
invites Simon to convert from hypocrisy to a
different way of judging and acting toward fellow
humans. While Jesus is uncompromising toward
misdeeds or sin, isn’t he also uncompromising when
it comes to accepting others, friend and foe alike, in
this case, welcoming the woman and challenging
but not rejecting Simon? Are humans defined only
by their real or supposed misdeeds?

About the strategy of some of his brother
bishops to `make war’ on abortion, South Dakota
Catholic Bishop Cupich told them: `…a prophecy of
denunciation quickly wears thin …what we need is a
prophecy of solidarity, with the community we
serve and the nation that we live in’. (quoted in
Commonweal Editorial, 5/12/08).

The way of implementing a prophecy of
solidarity is indicated by American Jesuit
Cardinal Avery Dulles. In commenting on
envisioning unity among Christians; he says, `The
first condition . . . is that the various Christian
communities be ready to speak and listen to one
another. . . . The process of growth through mutual
attestation will probably never reach its final
consummation within historical time, but it can
bring palpable results. . . . The result to be sought is
unity in diversity.’ (First Things, ’07)

Those are not just a Christian condition and
result; they are fully human. Does experience not
validate a claim that the better way between
different, opposed individuals and groups is one
leading to “unity in diversity”? Are exclusion and
isolation anything but impotent and sterile? Aren’t
Simon and the woman drawn within a more human
process? As a result don’t they depart from their
evening with their ability to hear reason and with
their freedom intact? In fact, is it not credible that
both Simon and the woman are invited, if not
actually drawn, closer not only to Jesus but also to
one another? Finally, to return to Bishop Cupich’s
solidarity, doesn’t `E pluribus unum’ mean unity in
diversity — union, not in sameness, but in
difference?

Such solidarity is impossible when one’s
starting point is that expressed in Simon’s initial
attitude: “Doesn’t Jesus know what kind of woman
she is?” Therefore, I have to wonder, Is it truly
Christian or even human to start, as some seem to
start, with a question like: “Doesn’t Fr. Jenkins
knowwhat kind of man Obama is?”

Isn’t the call to every Christian to put on the
mind of Jesus who Christians believe emptied
himself of power and the ways of power and drew
others neither by compromise with sin nor by
isolating rejection or coercion? To the extent a so-
called `prophecy of denunciation’ expresses a spirit
like that of the Pharisees (Simon’s initial attitude),
isn’t it a betrayal of the mind of Jesus? ? Isn’t such
prophecy animated by a spirit aiming at institutional
control, expressing a desire to force conformity in
the name of real or supposed truth? In the case of
NotreDame, doesn’t it express an ill-advised wish to
forceFr. Jenkins to dis-invite a supposedly unclean
Obama?

To the extent your answer is `Yes’, you see
why I say that Fr. Jenkin’s invitation to Obama
could be called a compromise with abortion only if
Jesus’ firm but friendly challenge to Simon could be
called a compromise with hypocrisy.

George B. York, lives in Denver. His
publication, `Michel de Certeau or Union in
Difference’ (2009, ISBN 978 0 85244 684 3),
concerns Faith in the understanding of a celebrated
French Jesuit historian.

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Posted by on Feb 24, 2009

What are You Giving Up for Lent?

What are You Giving Up for Lent?

lent-cross-trinity-park-forest

In the “olden days when I was a girl,” the beginning of Lent was often met with the question, “What are you giving up for Lent?” The focus was on penance and self-mortification. Typically we gave up candy and television, though my mother allowed us to enjoy both on Sunday and my brother, whose birthday often fell during Lent, got to eat the candy from his slice of birthday cake.

The focus of Lent has changed in the past 40+ years and now we look to see what positive things we can do during Lent, to enrich our faith and to help those less fortunate around us. With this change of focus in mind, I’ve been reading the newspaper, listening to the  news on radio and TV and following the internet news on MSN.com in the past days and weeks. I’d like to share some gleanings from these sources obtained during the past 24 hours, with some thoughts about what maybe we should all give up for Lent!

The San Jose Mercury News reported today, February 24, 2009, that President Obama’s budget will include all government spending, including that for the military and the wars in which we are now engaged. The funding for war was never included in the budgets submitted by President Bush over the past 8 years, making it appear that total government spending was much lower than it actually was. (Hmm … I wonder how far my family would get if I left out a major portion of our expenses in my budget!)

Radio and TV news and talk radio shows: Critics of the proposed mortgage relief program are angry because they believe it will benefit people who “didn’t play by the rules” when buying or refinancing a home. They particularly condemn people who bought houses they now can’t afford or who got an adjustable rate mortgage whose payments have gone up too high, as well as those who are “upside down” on their loans because the real estate market has adjusted downward. (This despite the fact that lenders actively pushed such loans, encouraged refinancing into adjustable rate loans, and often left the self-employed with few options other than “stated income” loans for financing their homes as recently as 6 months ago.)

The SJ Mercury News again. As of 2007, 47% of senior citizens in California struggle to make ends meet. The Federal definition of a poverty level income was set at $10,000 annually in the 1950s and remains at that level. Nine to ten percent of California senior citizens fall below that income level. For the most part, these are people who played by the rules. Yet the funds to help them and those receiving disability payments from the state are being cut as part of the budget deficit solution here in California.  

Again the Mercury News. Public funding for family planning prevents an estimated 2 million unplanned pregnancies per year, resulting in approximately 800,000 fewer abortions. For each $1 spent on funding family planning, $4 is saved in Medicaid costs for prenatal care for lower income mothers. Nevertheless, opponents of funding these services claim that such services are a “shameful population control program that targeted low-income families.” [ Troy Newman of Operation Rescue speaking of the attempt by members of the House of Representatives to include such funding in the stimulus package.] (One wonders if there is any similar outrage about the ability of middle and upper income couples to pay for medications and/or services for planning the size of their families. Do only those with money have a say for themselves in such personal decisions?)

Also from today’s paper. Currently (2008), 46.6% of health care spending was paid by governments, including Federal, state and local funds. By 2018, over 51% will be paid by government sources, with no increase in entitlement programs (Medicare/Medicaid), amounting to a cost of $2.2 trillion. About 45 million Americans have no health insurance and the number is growing as people lose the jobs that provided it. COBRA coverage is too expensive for many of them because they no longer have jobs. Private insurance is also too expensive or cannot be purchased due to pre-existing conditions. The stimulus package helps those who lost their jobs after September 1, but not those whose jobs were lost in the 9 months of the recession which preceded that date. (The fact that care for the uninsured is much more expensive because they often wait until conditions are serious or life-threatening before seeking care at hospital emergency rooms has been well documented. Then hospitals charge everyone more to cover the cost of care that they must provide and write off in order to qualify for federal funding. Does this make sense?)

Federal deficits during the recent Bush administration began at $158 billion and ended at $455 billion, totalling $2.5 trillion. (Is that without including the war funding?)

The stock market continues to fall. Investors worry that there’s no end in sight to the recession, after one whole month of a new administration that had warned from the start that the economy would get worse before it could get better! (Hello… It’s going to take time to work our way out of this.)

So what should our response as Christians be?

We’re in a major recession. Many people have seen their savings lose 1/2 or more of their value. Lots of people who have had steady work, been responsible citizens, employers, employees, consumers, community members, etc. have lost jobs, taken pay cuts, lost their businesses. Even those with 30 year fixed rate mortgaes have seen them become unaffordable when unemployement, illness or disability hits a family.

It’s time to quit judging each other and instead exercise a bit of compassion. Yes, some made mistakes in judgement that got them into this trouble. Some spent more than they should have. A few have cheated on loans. More have been cheated on housing purchases. But most people played it straight. Most people honestly made their best efforts. Lots of them have been hit by forces beyond their ability to control or predict.

It’s time to quit blaming the victims.

For Lent this year, let’s give up judging others and instead focus on how each one of us can add 1 “brick” to rebuild our economy, our communities and the lives of our sisters and brothers.

Let’s nurture a spirit of hope, a hope that is essential before any change can begin and that will bring new energy to face the challenges.

Let’s stop the politics and rhetoric of division. It doesn’t help anyone to try to defeat the efforts of those trying to solve the tremendous problems we face. No one has all the right answers. Maybe if we actually talk with each other, we can learn from each other too and come up with better solutions.

Let’s remember that compassion is fundamental in this endeavor. The term itself refers to a sharing of passion, and passion includes both love and pain. So we share each other’s pain as we share each other’s love.

And finally, let’s care for God’s “Little Ones,” the ones who can’t care for themselves or solve their own problems without our help. As the past months have demonstrated, any one of us could become one of those needing help. And those who traditionally have needed help, generally need it even more now.

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Posted by on Feb 2, 2009

February 2 – A Day to Celebrate Three Feasts and a Blessing

February 2 – A Day to Celebrate Three Feasts and a Blessing

The Meeting of the Lord - Orthodox Icon from Belarus (1731)

The Meeting of the Lord - Orthodox Icon from Belarus (1731)

 

February 2, a day falling 40 days after Christmas in the western Christian calendar, is a day when we celebrate 3 feasts and a blessing – The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, The Purification of the Virgin, The Meeting of the Lord and Candlemas.

There’s a sort of game going around Facebook these days in which people are asked to give 25 random bits of information about themselves to their friends and ask 25 others to do the same. It’s been fun to see what people have to say about themselves and who they ask for information.

In the spirit of the game, I’d like to give 25 bits of information about today’s feasts and blessing.

1. The Presentation of Jesus has been celebrated since at least the 4th Century AD.

2. First-born sons belong to God in Jewish tradition – originally to serve as leaders of worship/sacrifice. Fathers of the boys were required to offer a sacrifice to “redeem” them from the obligation to serve at the temple rather than remain with their families. This tradition continues in modified form today.

3. Today’s feasts are not the same as the Feast of the Naming of Jesus or the Circumcision – celebrated 8 days after Christmas.

4. When Joseph and Mary offered the sacrifice to “redeem” Jesus, they were allowed to choose between offering a lamb and a dove or simply two doves or two pigeons. They offered the birds, the gift of those who were not wealthy.

5. Childbirth rendered a woman ritually “unclean.” A purification ceremony was required to restore her freedom to interact socially with family, friends and community, including her worship community.

6. Periods of time for this unclean status varied by sex of the child born. A woman was unclean for 80 days following the birth of a girl. For a boy she was only unclean for 40 days. In both cases, a ritual was required to purify her.

7. Mary went to the temple in Jerusalem for her purification ceremony.

8. Simeon was an old man who had been promised by God that he would see the Messiah before he died. He recognized Jesus as the fulfillment of that promise when Jesus was presented for the sacrifice of his redemption at the temple and Mary for her purification.

9. Simeon told Joseph and Mary that their son was “destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel.” (Luke 2:34)

10. Simeon told Mary that she would be pierced with a sword. Our understanding is that this was the sword of sorrow as she watched her son’s life and mission unfold.

11. Anna was an old woman who spent her days and nights at the temple. She too recognized Jesus and his family, blessed God for the gift of seeing him and told all she met about him.

12. The Feast of the Purification has been celebrated since at least the 7th century.

13. The Feast is known as The Meeting of the Lord in some Eastern Christian churches.

14. Candlemas is a celebration of the blessing of candles (traditionally beeswax ones) for use in homes and churches in the coming year.

15. First evidence of the celebration of Candlemas dates from the 4th century in Rome, but it spread to the rest of Europe more slowly. It had reached England by the 10th or 11th century.

16. Candlemas is probably a feast whose focus was changed to a Christian one from older non-Christian ones that included fire, candles, ash and purification in a variety of European cultures.

17. Before the Second Vatican Council, the Christmas/Epiphany season lasted until Candlemas. It was considered bad luck to have Christmas decorations (including holly, ivy and bay leaves) still in the house on Candlemas.

18. Some cultures had celebrations in which young women carried candles in a procession at this time of year or in which young men and women had to jump over fires for purification before they could be married.

19. These are the last feast days whose date is set based on the date of Christmas.

20. Many traditions link Candlemas to the actions of animals as predictors of future weather – including bears, wolves and groundhogs!

21. Candlemas was one of the days certain taxes had to be paid in Scotland until 1991.

22. The French celebration of Candlemas includes eating crepes for dinner after 8 pm.

23. Mexican tradition includes tamales on the menu for Candlemas.

24. Some believe Candlemas was a “Christianization” of the feast of  Brigid the Goddess – an oracle and predictor of the success of the growing season – but little historical evidence exists for this claim. The feast of St. Brigid, an Irish abbess, is February 1. 

25. These feasts are celebrated in both Eastern and Western Christianity, but on different dates. In all traditions, however, they are celebrated 40 days after Christmas.

Whew!  So … there you have it. More than you probably ever wanted to know about Christian celebrations for February 2!

I think we’ll put the last of the Christmas decorations away, light some candles, and have tamales for dinner!

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Posted by on Jan 6, 2009

Epiphany

Epiphany

Hieronymus Bosch - The Adoration of the Magi

Hieronymus Bosch - The Adoration of the Magi

The Feast of Epiphany is traditionally celebrated January 6 in the Western Church. Recently, we have begun to celebrate it as a community on the first Sunday of January after the Feast of Mary, Mother of God (January 1st).

Epiphany, from the Greek “to manifest” or “to show forth,” is a celebration of God’s presence bursting forth and becoming visible in human lives. For Western Christians, the focus has been on the visit of the Magi, the wise ones, who followed a star from the East to find the newborn king. In this story, we see God’s presence being revealed to non-Jews, to Gentiles. For Eastern Christians, the focus is on the Baptism of Jesus, when Jesus became identified as the Son of God. The feast is sometimes known as Theophany in the East. (In the Western Church, we too celebrate the feast of the Baptism of Jesus, but on the Sunday after we celebrate Epiphany.)

In many Christian countries, especially those bordering the Mediterranean and in former colonies of those countries, gifts are exchanged at the Feast of Epiphany. This is because the Magi brought gifts to the child Jesus – gold, incense (frankincense) and myrrh. The gifts named in Matthew’s gospel can be seen as symbolic of the roles Jesus would play in salvation history – as king, deity, and human victim/sacrifice – as a result of the incarnation. Songs such as “The First Nowell” and “We Three Kings” remind us of the story and tell it again to our children.

During this season of Epiphany, may our eyes be open to see God’s presence in the people around us – the children, the babies, the old ones, the ones on the street, the ones at our work or in our homes. God is forever peeking around corners, knocking on doors in our hearts, smiling out of flowers, singing through the voices of birds and trying in every way possible to shine forth into our lives. May we be gifted to see and to smile in return.

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Posted by on Dec 5, 2008

Celebrating Hope and Light in Advent

Celebrating Hope and Light in Advent

Our Advent Spiral

Our Advent Spiral

One of the wonderful things about having children is that as they go through school, there are many chances for parents to experience new things too. One of the new experiences I discovered was the Waldorf School custom of celebrating the beginning of Advent with an Advent Spiral.

Children from kindergarten through about 3rd grade typically celebrate this ritual. A spiral is made on the floor of a large room using greenery, generally evergreens. Holly and other wintery plant materials can be added to make it more beautiful and colorful. Stars are placed along the edges of the green spiral. In the center, there’s a candle. Sometimes a person is there to hold the candle. Sometimes it’s just the candle.

After dark, the children and their families assemble and enter the room. It’s quite dark. Usually there’s only a little light for singers or musicians. An “angel” enters carrying a lighted candle and walks into the spiral path, around and around to the center. There he or she lights the candle at the center, extinguishes the one carried in, and walks back out of the spiral. At that point, each child in turn is given an apple with a candle held in its center – where the stem has been. The bottom of the apple has been cut so that the apple will sit safely level when it’s put down. The child carries the apple candle into the center of the spiral, lights it there, then carries it back out from the center. Finding a star, the child puts the apple candle down on the star and then walks the rest of the way back out the spiral.

As each child lights his or her candle and deposits it around the spiral, the room takes on a lovely golden glow. When all have had their turn, the “angel” returns to the center and extinguishes the candle there, leaving the room lighted by the candles of the children. All then leave the room and go to another for a treat.

No explanation is given to the children or their families of the significance of the ritual. The children have been told what they are to do, but not why. It is understood that when the time comes that they are old enough to understand its significance, they’ll figure it out for themselves. In the meanwhile, it is a lived experience to see the way the light each brings from the center helps light a dark room/world.

This year, at a time of financial chaos in the world and great uncertainty, my family and I again celebrated an Advent spiral. We invited a few relatives who live nearby to come to our home after dark on the First Sunday of Advent. We had made a spiral on our patio using greens trimmed from around our yard. We don’t have evergreens, but willows, morning glory, bouganvillea, and other blooming plants made the spiral beautiful. (It is the central coast of California, after all!) This time all walked the spiral. There were only a few of us, but again the light shone forth and it was beautiful to see. A simple dinner of stew, salad and pie followed, with much conversation and laughter. A renewal of hope and commitment to each other for the new year.

If you choose to celebrate Advent with a spiral of your own, be sure you have water or sand close at hand in case of fire. Children should not wear long skirts, and hair must be tied back – away from flames. We used tea candles in votive lamps instead of the apples, so the breeze would not blow out the fire. It was a bit more challenging to light them, so our “angel” stayed in the center to help light each candle.

Wishing you all the blessings of hope, faith, light, joy and love in Advent and the new year to come.

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Posted by on Nov 25, 2008

The Last Week of the Year – From the Feast of Christ the King to Advent

The Last Week of the Year – From the Feast of Christ the King to Advent

Feeding the Hungry in Jesus' Name - Baton Rouge

Feeding the Hungry in Jesus' Name - Baton Rouge, LA

Last Sunday we celebrated the Feast of Christ the King. The Gospel reading was from Matthew, speaking of the judgement of the nations on the last day. The King, a.k.a. The Son of Man, invites “the righteous” to enter the kingdom saying, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.” When they ask when they gave him this service, He assures them, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers [and sisters] of mine, you did for me.” He goes on to tell those who are not invited to enter the kingdom that when they denied this same care to the least, they denied it to Him. (Mt 25:31:46)

At this time of global economic crisis, with millions of people facing financial troubles they never expected to see, and other millions finding resources that were never enough in the first place becoming even more limited, these words ring loudly. They are a challenge to all of us – those who have just barely enough, those who still have plenty, those who have not enough at all. How do we recognize the Son of Man around us and what do we do to reach out and help?

I suggest that we look at this time as one for affirmation of hope and trust in our King. We have a King who cares so much about all of us, who loves us each so deeply, that He was willing to live among us and share in all that we experience. He was willing to challenge unjust structures and interpretations of the Law. He spoke up for God’s “little ones,” however old they were, who couldn’t speak up for themselves. He insisted that we are all created for the freedom of God, a freedom that allows us to do what is right and good for those in need, without worry about whether it is approved by those in power or authority. A freedom that lets us give of the little we have to help those with less. A freedom that can lead to the cross, but also to the joy of new life.

In the United States we celebrate Thanksgiving this week. Churches, schools, even gyms have been collecting food for weeks to share with “those less fortunate.” Many will offer dinners on Thanksgiving for those who are homeless or have no one with whom to share a meal. It is a special time when we reach out to each other in care.

The outreach will continue through Christmas. Gifts will be collected again at churches, schools, banks, and gyms for children and adults who might not receive a gift otherwise. Food baskets aren’t prepared and distributed for Christmas dinner, but collection of food for food pantries will continue throughout the year.

Then one calendar year ends and a new one begins – with hope and expectation of better times to come. It will be a time of especially high hopes in this country, as we see the beginning of a new presidency. And I wish all the best to those who will govern us. It’s not an easy job in the best of times – and these are not the best of times!

But what do we as people of faith bring to the party?

As Christians, we begin our new year at the end of this week. The first Sunday of Advent is next Sunday. A new year. New hopes. New expectations. New dreams.

Let us together move into this new year with a commitment to hope, to service, to caring for each other. Most of us will not ever have the chance or the means to effect dramatic change in this world. But remember, the little things are the ones that can be HUGE for an individual or a family. A gift of food, a gift of a smile, a gift of a kind word, a gift of hope, a gift of time for a visit. All of these affirmations of the value of the other person help ease the burden of hard economic times. Jesus wants to live in us and through us. We are to be His face, His voice, His touch to those around us. And when we reach out in service, we reach out to serve Him. When we graciously accept the loving help and kindness of people who reach out to us as well, we receive His love as well as return it to them.

As we move from the Feast of Christ the King into the new season of Advent, let it be with hope, trust and joy. Our God is with us. The Kingdom has begun. “Whatever you did for one of these … you did for me.”

(Picture from http://www.2theadvocate.com/news/16945146.html in Baton Rouge, LA.)

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Posted by on Nov 11, 2008

Martinmas and Veterans Day

Martinmas and Veterans Day

St. Martin as a bishop: modern icon in the chapel of the Eastern Orthodox Monastery of the Theotokos and St Martin, Cantauque, Provence.

St. Martin as a bishop: modern icon in the chapel of the Eastern Orthodox Monastery of the Theotokos and St Martin, Cantauque, Provence.

The feast of St. Martin of Tours, sometimes known as Martinmas, falls on November 11. In the United States, we celebrate November 11 as Veterans Day – a day we honor those who have served in the military of the country. It is a national holiday, though many businesses are open and retailers offer sales in the hope of luring people who are enjoing a day off!

As a child, I remember hearing people from my grandparents’ generation speak of the day as Armistice Day. This was the day, in 1918, on which World War I stopped. The Armistice was declared and hostilities were set to end at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month – and so they did. That was a war called “The War to End All Wars,” but unfortunately, it didn’t. So, when World War II followed all too soon afterwards, the name of the day was changed to Veterans Day, in honor of all veterans.

It seems appropriate that the feast of St. Martin of Tours coincides with this day of honoring those who have served their countries militarily, as he too served in the army. His life and contributions to the Christian community are discussed in greater detail in an earlier post, and they were impressive. Nevertheless, he is most commonly known for the legend told about him, in which he is approached by a begger and asked for help. Martin is said to have cut his military cape in half and given half of it to the beggar. Later, in a dream, he saw Christ in the form of the beggar, wearing the cape.

Martin was not a Christian at the time he served in the Roman cavalry, but had entered the Catechumenate before entering the military. Before he left the army, he had been baptized. As his faith grew and deepened, he became convinced that as a Christian, he could not kill, even as a member of the military. He accepted arrest and imprisonment rather than fight. He volunteered to go to the front of the troops, unarmed, but a peaceful solution was reached before the battle, so he did not have to prove his courage and commitment to non-violence in that way.

It seems to me that Martin’s insight that killing is not the calling of Christians is one that has been shared by many men and women who have served or refused to serve in military forces through the centuries. Certainly, there have been times when Christians have turned their backs on this belief, even claiming that killing was done on behalf of God. For those times we must beg God’s forgiveness and that of those harmed. However, the veterans I have known generally will say that war is never the best answer to human disputes. Terrible things happen in war. It does not really resolve the problem between nations. Sometimes it seems to be the only way to stop a terrible evil, but it’s never the best option. (Stopping the Holocaust is often given as an example of a good reason to go to war, but it must be acknowledged that even World War II was fought not to stop the Holocaust – of which there was very little awareness outside of Europe – but rather to stop the military aggression of certain nations.) Martin of Tours would agree that war is never to be the first response of nations or their people to conflicts with others.

But what, you ask, is Martinmas? Martinmas is the name of the celebration of Martin’s feast in Europe. I first experienced the celebration of Martinmas when my sons were little and attending Waldorf school. (Waldorf schools celebrate many European Christian holidays.) It is a harvest festival. It is a festival that marks the end of Autumn weather and the beginning of Winter weather in many nations. The thing that was most fun about the feast was the custom of making lanterns and going out after dark to walk with the lanterns.

For a week or more before the feast, the children would make lanterns of paper. Some were simply construction paper colored by the children and rolled into a cylinder with a bottom and a wire handle. Others were more elaborate. Sometimes a balloon was inflated as a base and tissue paper layers glued over the balloon to form the lantern. Once a wooden frame was built in the form of a star. Then layers of tissue paper were applied to form the walls. Leaves and glitter were included on that lantern. That one hangs in our living room to this day, a beautiful reminder of a school festival and a saint’s feast day.

(In some schools, glass jars are decorated for lanterns. They are also beautiful, but tripping in the dark can result in dangerously broken glass. Plastic peanut butter jars might be a reasonable solution to that problem!)

Once completed, the lanterns are hung by wire from a stick, a candle placed in the bottom, and children and parents sally forth in a procession around the school or neighborhood. In some countries, children visit neighbors and receive candy or other treats – much like Halloween in the US.

Martinmas Lantern Walk - From Today in Faerie School

Martinmas Lantern Walk – From Today in Faerie School

If you decide to celebrate Martinmas with a lantern walk, be very careful with lighted candles. There are now battery-operated “candles” that you might consider using, especially for very young children. We never had any serious accidents, but I’m sure Martin wouldn’t mind opting for safety on his feast.

After you go out for a little lantern walk, follow up with a warm dinner and/or dessert, lots of laughter and fellowship and a happy night’s sleep.

Happy Martinmas! Happy Veterans Day! And may the Lord help us all to find better ways to resolve our differences.

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