Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween and All Saints resources

Consider Halloween from the Christian perspective:

Here are some links (via Catholic author Amy Welborn's site: http://amywelborn.typepad.com/ )

Catholic Mom:

Origins of Halloween and All Saints:

Articles from American Catholic website:

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Breaking the Bread (Oct. 29): "Seeing the Son of David"

Breaking the Bread: Biblical Reflections on the Sunday Mass Readings
copyright St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology (www.salvationhistory.com)
[Dr. Scott Hahn, President]

"Seeing the Son of David"
October 22, 29th Sunday in Ordinary TimeReadings:
(go to http://www.usccb.org/nab/102906.shtml )
Jeremiah 31:7-9; Psalm 126:1-6; Hebrews 5:1-6; Mark 10:46-52

Today's Gospel turns on irony--it is a blind man, Bartimaeus, who becomes the first besides the apostles to recognize Jesus as the Messiah. And His healing is the last miracle Jesus performs before entering the holy city of Jerusalem for His last week on earth.

The scene on the road to Jerusalem evokes the joyful procession prophesied by Jeremiah in today's First Reading. In Jesus this prophesy is fulfilled. God, through the Messiah, is delivering His people from exile, bringing them back from the ends of the earth, with the blind and the lame in their midst.

Jesus, as Bartimaeus proclaims, is the long-awaited Son promised to David (see 2 Samuel 7:12-16; Isaiah 11:9; Jeremiah 23:5). Upon His triumphal arrival in Jerusalem, all will see that the everlasting kingdom of David has come (see Mark 11:9-10).

As we hear in today's Epistle, the Son of David was expected to be the Son of God (see Psalm 2:7). He was to be a priest-king like Melchizedek (see Psalm 110:4), who offered bread and wine to God Most High at the dawn of salvation history (see Genesis 14:18-20).

Bartimaeus is a symbol of his people, the captive Zion which we sing of in today's Psalm.

Bartimaeus, too, should be a sign for us. How often Christ passes us by--in the person of the poor, in the distressing guise of a troublesome family member or burdensome associate (see Matthew 25:31-46)--and yet we don't see Him.

Christ still calls to us through His Church, as Jesus sent His apostles to call Bartimaeus. Yet how often are we found to be listening instead to the voices of the crowd, not hearing the words of His Church.

Today He asks us what He asks Bartimaeus, "What do you want me to do for you?" Rejoicing, let us ask the same thing of Him--what can we do for all that He has done for us?

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Sunday, October 22, 2006

A new saint for the U.S. ... and for the world!

From Zenit newservice:

Date: 2006-10-15
Benedict XVI Canonizes 4 Saints
Says They Invested in Heaven

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 15, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Saints gain heaven by trusting in the word of God, said Benedict XVI on proclaiming the sanctity of a bishop, a priest and two women religious. "Their names will be remembered forever," he said today at the canonization Mass of the four saints in St. Peter's Square.

Among those canonized is St. Rafael Guízar Valencia (1878-1938), a bishop of Veracruz, Mexico, who is the first bishop-saint born in Latin America.

St. Teodora Guérin (1798-1856) of France, born Anne-Thérèse, is Indiana's first saint. Sent by the Congregation of the Sisters of Providence to Indiana in 1839, the religious founded St. Mary-of-the-Woods College in Indiana in the United States.

St. Filippo Smaldone (1848-1923) of Italy was a diocesan priest and founder of the Congregation of the Salesian Sisters of the Sacred Heart. He is known as the apostle of those who cannot hear or speak.

St. Rosa Venerini (1656-1728) of Italy, founded the Congregation of Religious Teachers Venerini and the first public school for girls in Italy.

The four new saints left a lesson, Benedict XVI said during the homily of the canonization Mass: "If man puts his trust in riches in this world he does not attain the full meaning of life or authentic joy." "On the contrary, if, trusting in the word of God, he denies himself and his properties for the kingdom of Heaven, he seems to lose much, but in reality gains everything," the Pope said.

"The saint is precisely that man or woman who, responding with joy and generosity to Christ's call, leaves everything to follow him," the Holy Father said. The Pontiff added: "Earthly riches occupy and preoccupy the mind and heart. "Jesus does not say that they are evil, but that they separate us from God if they are not 'invested' so to speak, in the kingdom of heaven, if they are not spent for those who are in poverty."

For more on the life of this holy woman of God St. Theodora Guerin, check out the following links:

Get the story from Catholic News Service!

Archdiocese of Indianapolis (where the saint's religious community resides)

Sisters of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods

Try having your students (especially Confirmation candidates) do some research on the lives of these new saints.

[PS: be careful in what you read (as always). I have already come across some rather bizarre spins on the life of St. Theodore. Apparently she had some run-ins with her local bishop in Indiana. Some Catholic writers who are disenchanted with Catholic Church teaching and the hierarchy have argued that St. Theodore is an example of how today's heretic can be recognized as tomorrow's saint. I do not think that such an idea would do justice to St. Theodore Guerin's devotion to the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty, and obedience.]

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Embryonic Stem Cell Research: Let's Look Before We Leap!

When recently paging through an issue of Time magazine recently (I don't recall the issue date, it was a patient waiting room) I came across an article on embryonic stem cell reseach. One picture I saw irritated me greatly. A woman protesting legislation which would ban federal support of embryonic stem cell research bore a sign which read "MY FAMILY VALUES GOOD SCIENCE." Do you see what is wrong with such reasoning? ... think about it....

There is a presupposition at work here. The phrase "family values" here is invoked presumedly to attack the "Christian Conservative" position. Christian conservatives (who oppose embryonic stem cell research) not only fight for "family values"... but they are also those same ignorant slobs who think that the theory of evolution should be banned from being taught in schools, for example. Time and time again, those pesky Christians oppose "good science." If we only obeyed "good Science" then we would be able to find all of these cures to terrible diseases such as Parkinson's Disease. But, those pesky Christians want to force their beliefs on everyone, and therefore, they stand in the way of life saving cures. [Notice how "Science" is invoked almost like a religion by some... it's authority and power is not to be questioned, and it will solve all of our problems and bring about salvation.]

What is wrong with this reasoning? Just because we can accomplish something through science does not mean that we should do so. Science explains how the world works and how we can manipulate it for some desired end. Science, however, does not answer the question of whether or not it is ethically right to do so. Might does not make right--what is true in politics, is also true in technology. If we could find cures to terrible diseases by conducting painful and lethal experiments on convicted felons, for example,... should we do it? No, there would be no question. It should be clear that all scientific innovations require ethical inquiries.

How then do we ask these ethical questions? By appealing to religious faith? Well, as individuals, this is important. Can we do that in a pluralistic society where people have different beliefs? In fact, we do not need to be Christians to know that stem cell research is unethical. It is important to remember that the Catholic Church teaches that we can also evaluate moral decisions through the natural law... the use of reason.

The following is an excerpt from the fine article by our local Ordinary Archbishop Jerome Hanus, OSB published in the Oct. 8 issue of the Archdiocese of Dubuque paper The Witness:

" 'Bald eagles, the living symbol or national freedom, spirit, and pursuit of excellence, have protection by law from those who would kill or harm them. In the United States, we have a stringent federal law, the Bald Eagle Protection act, passed in 1940, that protects not only the national bird, the bald eagle, but also that bird's eggs. If you chanced upon some of those eggs in a nest out in the wilderness, it would be illegal for you to destroy them. If you did so, you would suffer the same penalties and sanctions as if you had shot the adult bird out of the air. By the force of law, we acknowledge the scientific truth that the eagle's egg (that is to say, the embryonic eagle inside the egg) is the same creature as the beautiful bird that we witness flying overhead. Therefore we pass laws to safeguard not only the adult but also the very youngest of the species. Even atheists can see how a bald eagle's eggs ought to be protected; it's not a religious question at all. If bald eagles are valuable (in this case for pragmatic reasons of conservation), then it is right and fitting to protect them at all stages of their existence. The same logic holds for humans, who are valuable nor for pragmatic reasons but for intrinsic reasons... ' "

"Good science" now tells us that human life begins at conception. An embryo is destroyed when it's stem cells are extracted for biomedical research... and that destroyed human embryo is a destroyed human life. Period.

We must also remember, that "good science" has not shown that any cures have come from embryonic stem cell research. So far, progress has only come from adult stem cell research (which is permissible under Catholic teaching).

A caller on National Public Radio last week said that she favored "humans who are alive on earth right now" over "potential human life" (I am paraphrasing). I became frustrated again: the human embryo IS human life "alive on earth right now" just as much as you and I.

Do not get me wrong: I sympathize with those who want cures for terrible diseases. But do we want to go down this road? Do we want to begin to harvest human embryos and sell them at top dollar to research labs... do we want to make a commodity out of human life? Yes, it is about the principle... Without basic ethical/moral principles,... we will go down any slippery slope towards greater and greater evil.

From the new Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

472. Why must society protect every embryo?

The inalienable right to life of every human individual from the first moment of conception is a constituitive element of civil society and its legislation. When the State does not place its power at the service of the rights of all and in particular of the more vulnerable, including unborn children, the very foundations of a State based on law are undermined.


Related Links:

The Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics:


US Bishops' Q&A on Stem Cell Research and Human Cloning:


Michael J. Fox is deceived on embryonic stem cell research:


Cloning an Affront to Human Dignity (Cardinal Pell):


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Friday, October 20, 2006

Breaking the Bread (Oct. 22): "Cup of Salvation"

Breaking the Bread: Biblical Reflections on the Sunday Mass Readings.
copyright St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology (www.salvationhistory.com)
[Dr. Scott Hahn, President]

"Cup of Salvation" October 22, 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: (go to http://www.usccb.org/nab/102206.shtml ) Isaiah 53:10-11;
Psalm 33:4-5,18-20, 22; Hebrews 4:14-16; Mark 10:35-45

The sons of Zebedee hardly know what they're asking in today's Gospel. They are thinking in terms of how the Gentiles rule, of royal privileges and honors.

But the road to Christ's kingdom is by way of His cross. To share in His glory, we must be willing to drink the cup that He drinks.

The cup is an Old Testament image for God's judgment. The wicked would be made to drink this cup in punnishment for their sins (see Psalm 75:9; Jeremiah 22:15, 28; Isaiah 51:17). But Jesus has come to drink this cup on behalf of all humanity. He has come to be baptized--which means plunged or immersed--into the sufferings we all deserve for our sins (compare Luke 12:50).

In this He will fulfill the task of Isaiah's suffering servant, whom we read about in today's First Reading. The Son of Man will give His life as an offering for sin, as once Israel's priests offered sacrifices for the sins of the people (Leviticus 5:17-19).

Jesus is the heavenly high priest of all humanity, as we hear in today's Epistle. Israel's high priests offered the blood of goats and calves in the temple sanctuary. But Jesus entered the heavenly sanctuary with His own blood (see Hebrews 9:12).

And by bearing our guilt and offering His life to do the will of God, Jesus ransomed "the many"--paying the price to redeem humanity from spiritual slavery to sin and death.

He has delivered us from death, as we rejoice in today's Psalm.

We need to hold fast to our confession of faith, as today's Epistle exhorts us. We must look upon our trials and sufferings as our portion of the cup He promised to those who believe in Him. We must remember that we have been baptized into His passion and death (see Romans 6:3).

In confidence, let us approach the altar today, the throne of grace, at which we drink the cup of His saving blood (see Mark 14:23-24).

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Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Idiot's Guide to Prayer - Part I: The Jesus Prayer

This is the first of a series on Christian prayer. Do not be offended by the title of the series--we are ALL idiots when it comes to prayer. Indeed, legendary prayer warrior St. Paul, himself stated, "the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words" (Rom 8:26).

But, prayer is actually simple. We speak to God, and then we listen. But what are some practical ways to start this daily conversation? Let's start with one of the simplest ways:

"The Jesus Prayer"

"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!"
Catechism of the Catholic Church #2616

This is a prayer that has been highly treasured among Eastern Orthodox and Eastern-rite Catholics throughout history. Let's take a look at it piece-by-piece:

Many times we wonder, "I don't know how to pray... where do I start... how do I focus my mind when it is racing a mile a minute with distractions?... how do I make myself present to God and God to me?"

"Lord Jesus Christ..."
This sounds deceptively simple. Did you realize that when you utter these 3 words something incredible happens? Scripture tells us that "no one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:3). If you begin your prayer of adoration by uttering the holy name of Jesus, and make an act of faith that he is "Lord" of heaven and earth, of your marriage and family, of your entire life... then the Holy Spirit is without a doubt at work within you. Whether you are inside a church or not, God is present within and among you (even if you "feel" that God is far away from you). 3 little words can reassure you that God is with you. St. Paul also writes of the holy name of Jesus that "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father" (Phil 2:10).

"Son of God..."
Scripture tells us that "when anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the son of God, God dwells in him and he in God" (1 Jn 4:14-15). Think also of St. Peter's confession of faith. When Jesus asked his disciples who people said that he was, and who they thought he was, Peter stepped up and made the confession heard 'round the world: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Mt 16:16). How did Jesus respond to this? "Blessed are you Simon, Bar-Jona! for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven" (Mt 16:17). In other words, Peter was not able to make this confession of faith because of his own human brilliance or intuition. Nor did another man tell him about Jesus' true identity. "Flesh and blood" did not reveal this divine truth to Peter. The only way that Peter could have made this confession was because the "Father who is in heaven" gave him a special revelation. When you pray the Jesus prayer in faith--the grace of God is at work within you to know the true identity of Christ. So, God is present in heaven ("Our Father, who art in heaven...") AND also He is present in our midst in an intimate way.

"Have mercy on me, a sinner."
How else do we present ourselves before God in prayer than through contrition and humility. Part of prayer is acknowledging reality. The truth is that God is God--the creator of the heavens and the earth. ... and that we are NOT God. We are God's creation... we are creatures. God does not "owe" us anything... but He does desire to give us everything as a grace. We are children dependent upon our loving Father for everything. To receive his gifts, of course, one thing is required: we must be humble enough to accept them. God will never force himself on anyone. We must never approach God as the self-righteous Pharisee in the Temple, but rather as sinners in need of mercy (like the tax collector--"God , be merciful to me, a sinner!" Lk 18:13). We must admit that are like Bartimeus the blind beggar and cry out, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" (Mk 10:48; see also Mt 9:27).

When you sit down to pray, and you want to offer up all of your thanksgiving and joy... when you want to let go of all distractions,... all confusions,... all anger... all darkness and the feelings of God's absence (prayer is not chiefly about "feelings")... then begin by slowly repeating this prayer. Then take comfort... for whether you "feel" it or not... God is present... in your midst.

Thoughts?... Comments?... leave a comment by clicking below...

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How the Rosary draws us closer to Jesus Christ

Part 2 of an October "Month of the Rosary" special:

Understanding the Holy Rosary with Pope John Paul II

You might have wondered, "why should I pray the rosary?" "What does Mary have to do with praying to Jesus?" Sometimes Catholics are falsely accused of "worshipping Mary"! As this is the month of the Rosary, I thought that I would add another article on how the rosary is a Christ-centered prayer. The following are some points from Pope John Paul II's beautiful apostolic letter on the Rosary entitled Rosarium Virginis Mariae (Oct. 2002) (here after cited as RV). [To read the entire letter, go to http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/
] Consider some of these points when you talk to your students about the spirituality of the rosary.

  • When we pray the rosary, we contemplate the mysteries of Christ with Mary. You can almost imagine Mary seated next to you as you contemplate the mysteries of Christ together.
  • "In the recitation of the Rosary, the Christian community enters into contact with the memories and the contemplative gaze of Mary" (RV #11) Upon witnessing the wonderful actions of Christ Mary "kept all these things, pondering them in her heart" (Lk 2:19). All through her life, she contemplated the life of her son--even at the foot of the cross.
  • In the rosary, we meditate on the mysteries of Christ with Mary and through her perspective (as his mother, as his most faithful disciple, as the one who received the incredible promises from God's angel, etc.)
  • To "remember" the salvific mysteries is to make them present (RV#13). When the Israelites celebrated the Passover feast, they remembered the Lord ransoming His people from slavery in Egypt... any by remembering this great event, they made it present once again. When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, the sacrifice of Calvary is made present again (although, this is unique--because the body and blood of Christ is also made substantially present on the altar). The concept is the same. To remember the mysteries of salvation is to make them present to us in the here and now. This is what we do when we pray the rosary.
  • "Contemplating the scenes of the Rosary in union with Mary is a means of learning from her to 'read' Christ, to discover his secrets and to understand his message." (RV #14)
  • When 2 friends spend time together, they tend to develop similar habits--so too do we learn humility, poverty, hiddenness, patience, and perfection by praying with Mary and through her perspective (RV#15).
  • Of all creatures, Mary was most conformed to Christ. So, of devotions which seek to conform us to Christ, a devotion to Our Lady should be foremost (Mary lives only in Christ and for Christ) (RV#15).
  • Jesus is the Way, Mary is the sign which shows us the Way (because, she is His purest and most transparent reflection) (RV#16). At the wedding feast in Cana, Mary urged Jesus to work his first miracle. She did not wait to hear whether he would answer her prayer or not, she focused on God's will being done and told his disciples: "Do whatever He tells you" (Jn 2).
  • The Bible warns us against mindless repetition in prayer (babbling like the pagans - Mt 6:7). For this reason, praying the rosary should never be just a rote, mechanical spitting out of Our Fathers and Hail Mary's just for the sake of "saying the rosary" out of some feeling of obligation. The rosary should be prayed slowly, reverently, and as a deep contemplation on the mysteries of Christ.

To see how to use Scripture when praying the Rosary, check out my article on the Scriptural Rosary: http://swallowedscroll.blogspot.com/2006/10/

Other articles on the Rosary that you can check out:

A brief history of the rosary: http://www.catholic.com/

The new mysteries of light: http://www.catholic.com/

ACTIVITIES: Mysteries of the Rosary Activity and Coloring Book




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Saturday, October 07, 2006

Want to add some power to your rosary? (try the "scriptural rosary")

On this the feast day of Our Lady of the Rosary (October 7th), I wanted to give you an example of a "scriptural rosary." Praying a scriptural rosary involves reading or reciting (between the Hail Marys and Our Fathers) brief exerpts from Sacred Scripture that pertain to a particular mystery.

The rosary is intended to be contemplative prayer--as you repeat the Hail Mary and Our Father prayers aloud or internally, those prayers should become a backdrop to keep you focused on a particular mystery from the life of Christ (as if you were gazing upon a painting or image). By adding little bits of God's word to the familiar Hail Mary and Our Father, you can deepen your meditation.

For example, you might have a vague image or idea in your mind as you pray the 5th luminous mystery about Our Lord's institution of the Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper. But, if you inject some scripture passages into your rosary prayer, you will be surprised to see how deeper your meditation can become!

When teaching the kids, try having them look up passages and match them with the relevant rosary mysteries. Then you can take turns reading the verses as you pray (or, try reading a longer passage before you begin the Our Father). You can buy many books that offer examples of possible scriptural rosaries (any number of Biblical verses can be used). Below I include an excerpt from The Mysteries of Christ: A Scriptural Rosary which is published by The Word Among Us (www.wordamongus.org). copyright 2003

FIFTH LUMINOUS MYSTERY: THE INSTITUTION OF THE EUCHARIST (Jesus changes bread and wine into his body and blood)

Read or recite: Now the feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, wihch is called the Passover. Luke 22:1

Pray: Our Father...

Read/recite: So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, "Go and prepare the passover for us, that we may eat it." Luke 22:8

Pray: Hail Mary...

And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the passover. When it was evening, he sat at table with his twelve disciples. Matthew 26:19-20

Hail Mary...

And he said to them, "I have earnestly desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you I shall not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God." Luke 22:15-16

Hail Mary...

And s they were eating, he took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them, and said, "Take; this is my body." Mark 14:22

Hail Mary...

And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many." Mark 14:23-24

Hail Mary...

Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." John 6:53-54

Hail Mary...

Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb. Revelation 19:9

Hail Mary...

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. 1 Corinthians 11:26

Hail Mary...

Yet he commanded the skies above, and opened the doors of heaven... Man ate of the bread of the angels; he sent them food in abundance. Psalm 78:23, 25

Hail Mary...

How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All peoples may take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights. Psalm 36:7-8

Hail Mary...

Glory Be to the Father...

O My Jesus...

Hail, Holy Queen...

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Breaking the Bread (Oct. 8): Marriage and Divorce

Breaking the Bread: Biblical Reflections on the Sunday Mass Readings. copyright St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology (www.salvationhistory.com)

"What God Has Joined" October 8, 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: (go to http://www.usccb.org/nab/100806.shtml )
Genesis 2:18-24; Psalm 128:1-6; Hebrews 2:9-11; Mark 10:2-16

In today's Gospel, the Pharisees try to trap Jesus with a trick question.

The "lawfulness" of divorce in Israel was never at issue. Moses had long ago allowed it (see Deuteronomy 24:1-4). But Jesus points His enemies back before Moses, to "the beginning," interpreting the text we hear in today's First Reading.

Divorce violates the order of creation, He says. Moses permitted it only as a concession to the people's "hardness of heart"--their inability to live by God's covenant Law. But Jesus comes to fulifll the Law, to reveal its true meaning and purpose, and to give people the grace to keep God's commands.

Marriage, he reveals, is a sacrament, a divine, life-giving sign. Through the union of husband and wife, God intended to bestow His blessings on the human family--making it fruitful, multiplying it until it filled the earth (see Genesis 1:28).

That's why today's Gospel moves so easily from a debate about marriage to Jesus' blessing of children. Children are blessings the Father bestows on couples who walk in His ways, as we sing in today's Psalm.

Marriage also is a sign of God's new covenant. As today's Epistle hints, Jesus is the new Adam--made a little lower than the angels, born of a human family (see Romans 5:14; Psalm 8:5-7). The Church is the new Eve, the "woman" born of Christ's pierced side as He hung in the sleep of death on the cross (see John 19:34; Revelation 12:1-7).

Through the union of Christ and the Church as "one flesh," God's plan for the world is fulfilled (see Ephesians 5:21-32). Eve was "mother of all the living" (see Genesis 3:20). And in baptism, we are made sons and daughters of the Church, children of the Father, heirs of the eternal glory He intended for the human family in the beginning.

The challenge for us is to live as children of the kingdom, growing up ever more faithful in our love and devotion to the ways of Christ and the teachings of His Church.

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