Saturday, December 31, 2016

Resolutions 2017!

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   I started writing a resolutions post every year as a way of documenting how I have done in important areas of my life, which in my opinion needed to improve. Last winter, with my Dad's health issues, my mind was on other things so I did not have the emotional stamina to sit and look at how my life had been in the previous year. Nevertheless, I did have a list of resolutions which I communicated to my family as a way of keeping me on track.

  Here is the list and an honest assessment of how I did in 2016:
  • Continue eating healthy AND control my sweet tooth - I'm proud to say that this year I have lost 30 pounds, in fact my cardiologist was pretty impressed. I still have a sweet tooth but I try to keep it in check.
  • Continue exercising (Walking) and do a multi-day hike either in the Appalachian Trail or the C&O Canal. - I'm proud to say that this year I did 2 multi-day bike rides (Hiking takes too long and I enjoy biking with my bride). In one trip, we did the last 50 miles of the C&O canal and on another we did the first 50. We are planning some more for 2017 and maybe a multi-day Appalachian Trail trip.  We will see! (And I'm starting to feel The Camino tug again)
  • Read at least 25 pages a day- I'll say that I mostly did this although I was not as faithful as I should have been in the last 3 months of the year, however I did get to read a number of books I wanted to read. Overall, I feel that I have read much more than I usually do. The picture below is of all the books I read in 2016 (these are JUST non-fiction books)!

  • Write at least one blog article a month. - Failed miserably, in fact I wrote less than a post a month! I really need to do better with this.
  • Produce at least 10 episodes of my podcast. - Failed miserably, mostly because my mind was not focused on it but also because there was a period in February-March that I was losing my voice so I could not speak into a microphone. Let's see what I can do for next year.
  • Increase my Guitar repertoire (And record at least some!) - I'm sad to report that this (at the moment) will not be achievable as I have developed a nasty bout of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in both my hands which makes playing classical guitar very painful. It is with sadness that this year I have confronted the reality that my classical guitar playing days are over.
     
Well, that is it for this year and now onto the resolutions for 2017!

  • Continue eating healthy and lose 30 more pounds (My goal is 170)
  • Continue exercising. I think I will dedicate more time to biking and less to walking as it is a better use of my time.
  • Complete another couple of multi-day hiking/biking trips.
  • Read at least 10 pages a day.
  • Avoid buying books for at least 1 year (Seriously folks, I ran out of places to store books and "She-who-must-be-obeyed" is starting to get annoyed with my piles of books everywhere!)
  • Blog more, let's say one homily and one article a month.
  • Produce 10 episodes of a podcast (I have some ideas for different podcasts but they are all at different stages of development in my mind)
  • Depend less on my phone and more on my computer. (I noticed that I waste the most time on my phone, time on the computer tends to be productive)  
  • At least once a week, go to bed before 9:00PM. 
  • Be more intentional with my relationships, stay in touch,  love more, be less of an introvert.
That is it! Let's see how I do in the next year!

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Monday, December 26, 2016

Top Religion Related Science News For 2016

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  Another year comes to an end which means it is time for Top of 2016 lists. Since religion and science are two of my favorite topics, this year I give you my Top Religion-Science Related news. I selected these from science aggregators throughout the year as a way to disprove the tired "Religion vs Science" canard. I would say that 2016  was quite a year for the intersection of science and religion, with many scientists taking a look at the benefits that religion has on "homo-sapiens", as well as important contributions religion has given to astronomy and ecology. But don't believe me, just peruse the list and tell me if I missed anything! 

By far, the most important Science news of the year was the discovery of Gravitational Waves, an event which has the potential to change our understanding of reality. What does this have to do with religion? I'm not too sure but there is a reason why the Vatican Observatory is organizing an international workshop to map the way ahead. Lets see what develops from this gathering of top notch scientists and theologians. Other significant discoveries were:

Astronomers  discover  RR Lyrae type stars in the center of the Milky Way - An international team of astronomers has discovered for the first time a type of ancient star in the center of our Galaxy. What does this have to do with religion? Well, part of the team were scientists that are employed at the Vatican observatory. Just another nail in the coffin of the old "Catholic Church vs Science" fable.

Science Daily publishes article on Echotheology - The online news aggregator Science Daily published a report about a recent paper proposing that the efforts of Christian theology in understanding the role of Man in the environment are not limited to the last few years. In fact, Christian theology has a long and distinguished history of wanting to understand. The most surprising statement in the paper is this:
"The vast majority of us subscribe to the idea that human activity dramatically changes the natural environment, altering many biological processes. But addressing the global nature of human impact may require help from belief systems large enough to conceptualize on a cosmic scale"
Is science starting to realize that, when it comes to humans, without the cosmological view that religion provides to define our common destiny as created creatures, they will never be able to gain main-stream acceptance? Only time will tell! 

Religious service attendance associated with lower suicide risk among women -  A study in June revealed that attending religious ceremonies not only does marvels for your spiritual life, but it also lowers your chances of suicide.

Worldwide study reverses notion most scientists are atheists - "The study's results challenge longstanding assumptions about the science-faith interface. While it is commonly assumed that most scientists are atheists, the global perspective resulting from the study shows that this is simply not the case." In other words, the majority of the world's scientists are religious and they do not try to keep science and religion exclusive.

Brain scans reveal prayer helps addicts deal with cravingsAccording to a new study, members of  Alcoholics Anonymous reported less craving for alcohol after reciting AA prayers and viewing drinking-related images. I guess it pays to trust in your "Higher Power".

Apparently is not only believers who think Richard Dawkins is a troll - A survey of British scientists revealed that most of them think Richard Dawkins(The darling of Scientific Materialists everywhere) gives science a bad rap.

Religion is, once again, found beneficial to adolescent development - A new study authored by University of Calgary researchers were able to show that religion has a "barrier" effect in young adolescents when it comes to viewing pornography at an early age.

Faith-based health promotion program successful with older Latinas - Another study revealed that your health could actually improve more if you follow a health program centered in faith and not just exercising. Nothing like sacramentalizing your day to stay healthy!

Winner of distinguished astronomy award speculates about the star of Bethlehem - "Florida International University astronomer, Professor Caroline Simpson, provides scientific insight into what may explain the Christmas Star phenomenon. Simpson studies how galaxies and the universe evolve over time. She is the recipient of the 2016 Richard H. Emmons Award for excellence in college astronomy teaching and one of the first physics professors at FIU to transform a basic introductory astronomy course for non-science majors into an active learning class." The funny thing about this one is that she reached the same conclusion I reached after my own research on this topic. You can hear my thoughts on this topic at my now semi-retired podcast "The Hidden Bible"

Here are some honorable mentions:

Avoiding spiritual matters could be detrimental to your health  
Thinking about spiritual matter activates brain reward areas
Oxytocin found to enhance spiritual well being
Religious actions convey pro-social intent 

Study shows that those who believe in God are considered more trustworthy

Well that is our list for this year. Let's see what the new year has to offer to us,

Many blessings and Happy New 2017 everyone!!
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Saturday, December 24, 2016

On the Manhood of Josepth - 4th Sunday of Advent (A)

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      Welcome to the 4th Sunday of Advent. If you are like me, by now you have heard enough homilies about Christmas, so...with this in mind I have decided that today I will not preach about Christmas but about another topic we hardly get a chance to preach about: Manhood. But not the sinless, divine manhood our Lord Jesus displayed while he dwelt among us. I have decided to preach about the more common manhood we encounter in everyday life. A manhood that is flawed, weak and sinful, but that sometimes, when it is willing to trust and abandon itself completely to God’s providence, is capable of greatness.
      First we meet King Ahaz, a descendant of King David, a man who was proud and weak, who did everything in his power to destroy the Jewish religion, to the point of allowing pagan altars and pagan sacrifices in the Jewish temple. He was such a bad King that when he died, his own Son, Hezekiah, refused to bury him among the other kings of Israel.
      In today’s reading we see the hypocrisy of this man, who while allowing sacrifices to pagan gods in the Jewish temple, refuses God’s gracious offering of a sign. Ahaz shows us the wrong kind of manhood. A manhood which is based on the abuses of its own power. A manhood which, while refusing God’s gracious gifts, thinks that he can impress God with false shows of religious fervor.
      In contrast to Ahaz we meet Joseph, another descendant of David, but not a king, a humble carpenter. Here is this man who just discovered that the woman he is “betrothed” to marry is pregnant with a child that is not his own. And after struggling with what to do decided what every good man of his times would, divorce his wife quietly so as not to bring shame to her. And now according to an angel the father of the child is the Holy Spirit, the child will be a boy, even his name has already been selected: His name will be Jesus. Everything is already taken care of; All Joseph had to do was sign here on the dotted line.
    I’m not trying to be disrespectful to poor Joseph, but I’m sure in his mind he had all his life planned and then... this! What does a good man do in situations like this? A real man trusts in God’s providence, and embraces the task given to him. Joseph, presented with the awesome responsibility to be a father to the savior of the world, be his protector and his provider welcomes Mary into his home.
     Now your average person would think, “ok, since all this is God’s doing, from here on it is going to be easy sailing”; well the fact is that just about everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong! Instead of security and comfort, Joseph finds himself on  a hard journey during the last stage of Mary’s pregnancy. Then when Mary was ready to deliver the baby he could not find a place to stay, with no family or friends to help.  So he has to settle for a filthy manger surrounded by animals. And after the baby is born he is forced to uproot his family and escape to Egypt and become what we today would consider an immigrant.
    Again, the average person might think “with all the calamities we have suffered, perhaps it was not such a good idea to listen to that angel.”
But this is not the way good men think. What does a man do when things are not going the way he planned?He maintains his trust in God’s providence.
    In today’s readings there is a great contrast between these two men, but there is something else: King Ahaz had lost his faith in the God of Israel and placed his trust in foreign gods; Joseph on the other hand placed his trust in God alone and the harder the way got the harder he trusted in God’s providence. This my brothers and sisters is the mark of true manhood: trust in God.
    In a culture in which the idea of manhood had been diluted to a point in which we are not too sure what real manhood is, we are given a quiet man. Not a King in command of great armies but a peasant with a simple faith and steady hand. God’s chosen father for his only begotten son.
   After the events of Christmas, Joseph retires into obscurity and we never hear what happened to him, all we know is that he did his job the best way he could and that he trusted that God will take care of the rest. I can not think of a better example of manhood for us here today. God bless your all.
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Sunday, October 16, 2016

That Faith "Thing": 29th Sunday Ordinary Time (C); To the 8:00 AM Crowd

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Today was one of those rare Sundays in which I have to prepare two homilies, as I was preaching to two different groups. Saturday night I preached specifically to the confirmandi and Sunday morning to the the regular 8:00AM crowd. Here is the 8:ooAM version of my homily.

  Today’s Gospel ends with a very disturbing question by Jesus. “When the son man comes, will he find faith?”. I find this question disturbing because it is a direct challenge to my own “spiritual comfort zone”. I like to think that I have a strong faith, a faith I could show the Lord in my last day and say “Master, Look what I did with the talents you gave me”. And then I start remembering all the times I was less than faithful. You know, the times I didn’t pray when I was supposed too, the times I received communion knowing that I was less than ready to receive the Lord, the times in which I thought that just doing the minimum effort was good enough, even the times in which I told myself “God will understand” before going ahead and behave in a less than Christian way. And then I start thinking that perhaps I’m not as ready to show my faith to the Lord as I thought I was. To me is not if I will show the Lord my faith, but what kind of faith I will end up showing him.
   In fact, I’m convinced that for Christians who want to take their faith serious, asking themselves every day “If the Lord were to come to me today what kind of faith will he find?” is a good and helpful thing.
  Now, this weekend is a very important weekend here at St. Michael, because if the day that 70’some  young men and women will enroll into the last part of our confirmation program. In April or May, God willing they will receive the sacrament from the bishop. I was planning to preach two different homilies but then I sat and stared looking at what I told this group of young men and women and thought “There is some good stuff here”, so I decided to just adapt what I said. So if you are a seeker and are having doubts about your faith this is for you:
   My dear friend, I know who you are and I know why you are here. You are the future of our parish, our church, our country and our world.  I know that some of you are not too sure why you are here, I also know that some of you do not want to be here, and that the only reason why you are here is because you want to please someone.
    I know that for you this faith thing is very confusing, and that in fact it seems that the only place in which faith is important is in church. Outside of these walls faith is boring, unimportant and even embarrassing.
   I know that that some of you are even questioning the very existence of this faith, this church and even God himself. I’m here to tell you it is OK. To have faith is to question, to doubt and to seek. You might be thinking why would I want live a life with doubt? Here is my answer: Because to have faith also means to have hope. Hope in the future, hope in yourselves and hope in the fact that there is a destiny for each one of us which is eternal; where we will meet all those who have passed from this life into whatever is waiting for us on the other side of death.
  If you can identify yourself with what I just told you, then I have a promise for you. I want to promise you that if you are a seeker and are willing to sit down and talk, either to Father Mike, Father Kurt, Deacon Cliff or myself, we will do everything in our power to answer all of your questions. I assure you, we have answers for all of them.
   Lastly I will like to tell you this, in your mind you might have many reasons why you are here tonight, some of you just want to make someone happy, others might think that “this is what my family has done for generations” and even others might not even be able to articulate why you are here! Regardless of what your reason is I want to tell you this: The reason why you are here today is because God wants you to be here, he has called you, you have not answer to his call yet, but at least you stopped looking at yourself long enough for him to catch your attention. That is all God needs, that is all he asks, God has called you and you have heard this call: What are you going to do about it?

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"
"Ya Rabbi Yasou!!"
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That Faith "Thing": 29th Sunday Ordinary Time (C); To the Confirmandi

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Today was one of those rare Sundays in which I have to prepare two homilies, as I was preaching to two different groups. Saturday night I preached specifically to the confirmandi and Sunday morning to the the regular 8:00AM crowd. Here is the confirmandi version of my homily.

     Today’s Gospel ends with a very disturbing question by Jesus. “When the son man comes, will he find faith?” I find this question disturbing because it is a direct challenge to my own “spiritual comfort zone”. I like to think that I have a strong faith, a faith I could show the Lord in my last day and say “Master, Look what I did with the talents you gave me”; and then I start remembering all the times I was less than faithful. You know the times I didn’t pray when I was supposed too, the times I received communion knowing that I was less than ready to receive the Lord, the times in which I thought that just doing the minimum effort was good enough, even the times in which I told myself “God will understand”, before going ahead and behaving in a less than Christian way. And then I start thinking that perhaps I am not as ready to show my faith to the Lord as I thought I was. To me it is not if I will show the Lord my faith, but what kind of faith I will end up showing him.
   In fact, I'm convinced that for Christians who want to take theirs faith serious, asking themselves every day “If the Lords were to come to me today what kind of faith will he find?” is a good and helpful thing.
   Now tonight we are lucky, we have a big group of our future confirmandis with us here, so I would like to direct the rest of my homily to them.
   My dear confirmandi, I know who you are and I know why you are here. You are the future of our parish, our church, our country and our world.  I know that some of you are not too sure why you are here, I also know that some of you do not want to be here, and that the only reason why you are here is because of your parents.
    I know that for the majority of you this faith thing is very confusing, and that in fact it seems that the only place in which faith is important is in church. Outside of these walls faith is boring, unimportant and even embarrassing.
   I know that that some of you are even questioning the very existence of this faith, this church and even God himself. I’m here to tell you it is OK. To have faith is to question, to doubt and to seek. You might be thinking why would I want live a life with doubt? Because to have faith also means to have hope. Hope in the future, hope in yourselves and hope in the fact that there is a destiny for each one of us which is eternal. Where we will meet all those who have passed from this life into whatever is awaiting on the other side.
  If you can identify yourself with what I just told you, then I want to make you a promise. I want to promise you that if you really invest yourself in this program, if you honestly think about the important issues we will be discussing during the next few months; I assure you that all of your questions will be answered and if they are not, just come to me and I will do my best effort to give you an acceptable answer.
   Lastly I will like to tell you this, you might have many reasons why you are here tonight, some of you just want to make your parents happy, others might think that “this is what we do in my family” and even others might be here just because there is a cute girl or guy here too. Regardless of what you think your reason is I want to tell you this: The reason why you are here today is because God wants you to be here, He has called you, you have not answer to His call yet, but at least you stopped looking at your phone and social media long enough for Him to catch your attention. That is all God needs, that is all he asks, God has called you and you have heard this call: What are you going to do about it?
  God bless you all, and I hope to see you all back here in April to meet the bishop and receive the Sacrament of confirmation.

"VIva Cristo Rey!!"
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Sunday, September 4, 2016

" Viva Cristo Rey!!": 23 Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle C)

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  Since we are in a season in which our young people are returning to school, today I will direct my comments to them. I would like to introduce them to a very special person. His name is Jose Sanchez Del Rio, a young Mexican boy of 14 years of age. Jose was born in the year 1913 and when he was 10 years old an atheist government was elected in his country. It didn’t take long for this government to implement laws which closed Catholic Schools, stole church properties, limited the rights of priests and religious, and forced priests to leave the country or suffer imprisonment and even execution. Of course, Mexicans, being a deeply Catholic people, did not take these laws lightly and in the the year 1926 a rebellion exploded in the Mexican country side. The men in this rebellion were called “Cristeros” (“Cristero” meaning “those who fight for Christ”) and their their fighting cry was “Viva Cristo Rey!!”  or “Long live Christ the King!”
  Jose’s older brothers decided to join the Cristero army and fight for the rights of Mexican Catholics. Being 12 years old Jose could not follow his brothers to war but pleaded with his parents to let him go. When asked why he wanted to join the fight he answered that he wanted to be given the chance to give his life for Jesus. When he was 14 years old he heard the Cristero army was close to his town so he walked 20 miles to where they were encamped and pleaded with the commanding general to let him fight with his brothers. The general assented but told him that because he was so young his  job in the army was not to fight but to carry the Cristero flag to battle. On January 26, 1928 during an intense fight, the horse used by this same general was shot dead. When Jose  realized this he dismounted from his own horse and gave it to his commanding officer so that he could escape. This action caused Jose to be taken prisoner by the Government forces.    Being so young, the guards proposed to him that if he publicly denied the faith by proclaiming “Death to Christ the King” they would let him return to his family. He refused. What followed were 17 long days in which the soldiers tried again and again to make him deny his faith. In prison José prayed the rosary daily and wrote letters to his  family asking them to stop trying to get him released since he was ready to fulfill the will of God to whom he dedicated himself completely.
  On February 10th of 1928, after a being tortured by his captors with the soles of his feet severely wounded, he was forced to walk to the cemetery of his town where he was stabbed to death. He was given one last chance to deny the faith but his last words were “Viva Cristo Rey!!”  
   On October 16, just a few weeks from today, Jose, a young person just like you here today,  will be elevated to the honors of the altar, and from this moment on he will be known as Saint Jose Sanchez Del Rio.
  You might be wondering, why have I told this story today? Well, in today’s Gospel reading we heard some very troubling words from Jesus. “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” What is Jesus saying? That we have to hate the people we are supposed to love the most ? Not at all. Look at young Jose - he deeply loved his parents and brothers. He loved them as much as I’m sure you love yours, and yet when it came to loving God, he understood very well what was most important: That nothing can come between our love for Him who loves us more than anyone can love us.
  Jesus words are difficult to hear, it is difficult to think that some day we might have to make the choice between our friends, families, lives and our Christian faith. But when the moment comes, Jesus is very clear, we must act as if these things mean nothing to us. This, in short words, is what it means to be a Christian, a disciple of the Lord.
   The Christian faith is not for wimps.  It is a challenging and sometimes difficult way of life. With many of you starting the school year I’m sure your faith will be challenged, by friends and teachers. Ask yourself this: Am I strong enough to call myself a Christian?


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Sunday, August 14, 2016

"Not Peace but Division": 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle C)

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   Today’s gospel reading contains what is, in my opinion, some of the most confusing and challenging words the Lord Jesus has ever said. He says, “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division”.   He doesn’t stop there though, he makes sure we understand that this division is not just a simple disagreement between friends. He promises it to be the cause of the most painful kind of division—division within families, between parents and their children!
    When we hear these words we have to ask: How can the “Prince of Peace” — the man who taught us that “When someone slaps you in the face offer the other cheek” — talk like this? Are we not supposed to live in peace and love everybody? How can Jesus say he came to destroy peace in the world?  Is this being nice? Is this being loving? How can we reconcile these two ideas? 
    Well if we really look at what Jesus is saying, we see that He is not saying “if you are my disciples go out and burn the world down! Cause division and discord! Make it your goal to destroy the fabric of society- which is the family”.  He is really talking about how his message is going to be received by the world, how it will challenge and change the lives of those who are willing to embrace it, and how those who surround His disciples will react.
         His message of love and peace is a message of true love and true peace which is diametrically opposed by the message of fake love and fake peace we experience in the world. This message is so radical, so unlike anything the world can accept that it will make us, his disciples, an object of persecution and division even within our own families!
   Now as scandalous as this talk about fire and division is, we should not be surprised by it. We just have to look at how Jesus's message was received by the people of his time.

   The baptism in which he will be baptized, the cross, is not exclusive to him. This is the destiny of all prophets of the Lord. We don’t have to look farther than the way poor Jeremiah is treated in the first reading. Those who stand for the truth can only expect to be marginalized and persecuted. Which begs the question: Why? Why would anyone disagree with the message of the gospel?
    I really have no time to go over all the reasons why this is but I can say this: Jesus's message is very dangerous. It is dangerous because it completely ignores our own interests for the sake of loving others. But who are the others? My friends? My family?
   Let me give you a couple of examples:
   By Jesus's command, we are obligated to pray for and love our enemies. This means pray for the neighbor that you have had problems with, the bully at school, the person at work whom you cannot stand… But it also means the criminals, the terrorists and, yes, even the followers of the other presidential candidate regardless of whom I am voting for.
    By Jesus's command, we are obligated to help the needy, regardless of who they are or where they come from. That means help the weird old guy living alone in my street but also the Mexican or Syrian immigrants we might encounter in our daily lives; if they are part of our communities and they need our help we are obligated to help them in any way we can.
   By Jesus's command, we are obligated to pray for police officers and for the people protesting against them. Now this is just a small sample of what we have to pray for, I have not even mentioned abortion, same sex marriage, the death penalty, and many others.
   I do not have to tell you that none of these are the types of topics you would want to bring into polite conversations, in fact these are the types of topics that we avoid when we are at family reunions. These are the topics we do not want to discuss with anyone, because they will stir up strong feelings in everyone!
   My brothers and sisters, I am the first one to admit that I myself struggle with this radical love that is the message of the Gospel. I know that with my own weak human faculties I can not love in the way Jesus requires me to love others. Luckily we have grace, which is the divine love of God, which manifests in our lives in many ways. In today's second reading, we hear of one source of this grace, which is what the Letter to the Hebrews calls  “the great cloud of witnesses”  which surrounds us. These are the ones who persevered in running the race and kept their eyes fixed on Jesus the leader and perfecter of our faith. They can help us by their life examples and by their prayers for us. We are not alone in the struggle of living the Gospel. We can ask for their help and intersessions.
  In the last 6 minutes or so, I have said a lot. I’m sure I have stirred up a lot of strong feelings in this sacred hall. I (or Father Mike) might even get some emails for this! This is what the Lord is talking about when he says that he has come to cause division. But we become divided only when we do not accept that, confronted with these words of the Gospel, we are all challenged, we all fall short of what Jesus expects from his disciples.
  May the great cloud of witnesses pray for us and for all of those who struggle with loving like the Lord Jesus expects us to love. Amen
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