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15 September, Saturday – Memorial of Our Lady Of Sorrows

15 September – Memorial for Our Lady of Sorrows

Different sorrows of Mary have been honoured in the Church’s history, but since the 14th century these seven have come to be regarded as the seven ‘dolors’ (sorrows) of the Blessed Virgin Mary:

  1. The Prophecy of Simeon
  2. The Flight into Egypt
  3. The Loss of the Child Jesus for Three Days
  4. Meeting Jesus on the Way to Calvary
  5. The Crucifixion and Death of Jesus
  6. Jesus Taken Down from the Cross
  7. Jesus Laid in the Tomb

By commemorating Our Lady of Sorrows, we call to mind the sufferings that Mary endured as part of her vocation as the Mother of the Redeemer. No one is closer to Christ than Mary, consequently no one has participated more intimately in the redemptive suffering of Christ than His Mother Mary.

– http://www.catholic.net/RCC/Periodicals/Faith/1998-03-04/sorrows.html

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1 Corinthians 10:14-22

My dear brothers, you must keep clear of idolatry. I say to you as sensible people: judge for yourselves what I am saying. The blessing-cup that we bless is a communion with the blood of Christ, and the bread that we break is a communion with the body of Christ. The fact that there is only one loaf means that, though there are many of us, we form a single body because we all have a share in this one loaf. Look at the other Israel, the race, where those who eat the sacrifices are in communion with the altar. Does this mean that the food sacrificed to idols has a real value, or that the idol itself is real? Not at all. It simply means that the sacrifices that they offer they sacrifice to demons who are not God. I have no desire to see you in communion with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot take your share at the table of the Lord and at the table of demons. Do we want to make the Lord angry; are we stronger than he is?

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Luke 2:33-35

As the child’s father and mother stood there wondering at the things that were being said about him, Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘You see this child: he is destined for the fall and for the rising of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is rejected – and a sword will pierce your own soul too – so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare.’

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“… and you yourself a sword will pierce so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” 

In the Stabat Mater,a grieving Virgin Mary stands on the right of the crucified Christ, heartbroken but unflinching. The opening lines of the hymn – “At the cross her station keeping, stood the mournful Mother weeping, close to Jesus to the last” – are of her fidelity to Christ in his darkest hour. It’s a fitting symbol for us as the Catholic Church reels from the latest revelations of sexual abuse and cover-ups. Our news cycle is relentless, the details almost too gruesome to bear.If you have been paying attention, your first response would have been of revulsion and horror. How could this have happened in our house, on our watch? Did we not see? Were we wilfully blind, too trusting, too much like sheep? More importantly, now that it has come to light, what are we, the laity, going to do about it?

We are on a long and painful road,but one that is necessary if God’s house is to be purified and this rotrouted from our midst. It isn’t enough for us to say, “What happened is a human sin, it has nothing to do with me or why I go to church”. A refusal to inform one’s self is as bad as looking the other way while it is happening. That is removing yourself from the seriousness of the matter. “Because… we though many, are one Body, for we all partake of the one loaf” (1 Cor 10: 17). What happens to one of us, happens to ALL of us. What has happened here in America, affects all of us as Catholics around the world. All of our testimonies, all our evangelical efforts, all our hard work witnessing – ALL that has been compromised because the credibility of God’s house has been compromised. So this is everybody’s fight, not just that of Catholics in America.What’s at stake is the continuity of this place we all call home, our Church, where we have all grown up spiritually, where we go for confession, for communion, for baptism, for worship.

For us the laity, our beacon is Christ and Our Lady. It’s easy to be angry, to let the hurt overcome us and fall away. I am certainly guilty of it. I’ve been angry and broken for what feels like weeks now. In this state of despair, I’ve gone back to the one thing I know is unassailable – the Word of God. Our hurt and anger should not be the end-all of our response. See the quiet courage with which Our Lady gazed upon the devastation before her, the unwavering focus she had for Christ. It’s fitting that this is the symbol the Holy Spirit has chosen for us now, because unflinching focus on Christ is what will save us during this chaotic time. God help us all.

“O sweet Mother! font of love,

Touch my spirit from above,

Make my hear with yours accord.

Make me feel as you have felt;

Make my soul to glow and melt

With the love of Christ, my Lord” – Stabat Mater

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the courage to gaze unflinchingly, to walk unwaveringly, this difficult road ahead. We pray for the prophets and judges that God will raise up in this time of purification, that He guides their hands and strengthens their hearts.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the Holy Spirit, our divine guiding light when all things are dark and dim around us.

14 September, Friday – Feast Of The Exaltation Of The Holy Cross

13 September – Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

The feast was celebrated in Rome before the end of the 7th century. Its purpose is to commemorate the recovering of that portion of the Holy Cross which was preserved at Jerusalem, and which had fallen into the hands of the Persians. Emperor Heraclius recovered this precious relic and brought it back to Jerusalem on 3 May 629.

– Patron Saints Index

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Numbers 21:4-9

On the way through the wilderness the people lost patience. They spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt to die in this wilderness? For there is neither bread nor water here; we are sick of this unsatisfying food.’

At this God sent fiery serpents among the people; their bite brought death to many in Israel. The people came and said to Moses, ‘We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Intercede for us with the Lord to save us from these serpents.’ Moses interceded for the people, and the Lord answered him, ‘Make a fiery serpent and put it on a standard. If anyone is bitten and looks at it, he shall live.’ So Moses fashioned a bronze serpent which he put on a standard, and if anyone was bitten by a serpent, he looked at the bronze serpent and lived.

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Philippians 2:6-11

Jesus Christ’s state was divine,
yet he did not cling
to his equality with God
but emptied himself
to assume the condition of a slave
and became as men are;
and being as all men are,
he was humbler yet,
even to accepting death,
death on a cross.
But God raised him high
and gave him the name
which is above all other names
so that all beings
in the heavens, on earth and in the underworld,
should bend the knee at the name of Jesus
and that every tongue should acclaim
Jesus Christ as Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

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John 3:13-17

Jesus said to Nicodemus:

‘No one has gone up to heaven
except the one who came down from heaven,
the Son of Man who is in heaven;
and the Son of Man must be lifted up
as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,
so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.
Yes, God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost
but may have eternal life.
For God sent his Son into the world
not to condemn the world,
but so that through him the world might be saved.’

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“So must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” 

My 2.5yr old nephew believes he can see Jesus Christ. He describes with some detail, the figure of Christ, surrounded by a holy fire, and wonders why we can’t see him. He says he can see his deceased grandfather too, surrounded by the same holy fire. He says all this matter-of-factly, as if it’s the most natural thing. Is this what Christ means when he says, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matt 19:14)? We don’t quite know what to make of all this, so we have just let him be, instead of trying to talk him down from it. Faith is a beautiful thing, and that he has learnt it at such a young age is a blessing.

Child-like faith does not get caught up with the difficult questions of adulthood. It does not fret about the small details or question the boundaries of reality and imagination. Child-like faith accepts the risen state of Christ without tripping up on the mystery of the Eucharist. Believe and it will be! This was essentially what Moses asked the Hebrews to do – believe and you will be saved! You will be cured! You will be liberated! As an adult, one of the biggest stumbling blocks to being confirmed a Catholic is the Eucharist. To submit to the mystery of the cross goes against our fact-based instincts. We may, at one time, have had the child-like faith of my 2.5yr old nephew but, we grew up, life got in the way, and now we suffer from that adult affliction – scepticism. Can we reclaim that innocence? Yes, if we believe that Christ died for our sins, “so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” If we embrace him into our lives, He can heal us from our cynicism, he can restore us. But to do that requires humility and the willingness to accept, like a child does, that some things are simply a mystery. The risen Christ is a mystery – and that’s ok. We don’t have to have all the answers. It is ok not to know.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for all those struggling with their faith. In these chaotic times, hold on tight to one another in prayer and meditate on the Word of God. May the Holy Spirit guide you to the conclusion you are seeking.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all who labour in God’s name. They are an inspiration to those of us who are seeking purposeful vocations.

13 September, Thursday – Marie Kondo And Forgiveness

13 September – Memorial for St. John Chrysostom, Bishop and Doctor

John’s (347-407) father died when he was young and he was raised by a very pious mother. It was for his sermons that John earned the title “Chrysostom” (golden-mouthed). They were always on point, they explained the scriptures with clarity, and they sometimes went on for hours.

As bishop, he criticised the rich for not sharing their wealth, fought to reform the clergy, prevented the sale of ecclesiastical offices, called for fidelity in marriage, and encouraged practices of justice and charity. St. John’s sermons caused nobles and bishops to work to remove him from his diocese; and he was twice exiled from his diocese. He was proclaimed Doctor of the Church in 451.

– Patron Saints Index

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1 Corinthians 8:1-7,11-13

Now about food sacrificed to idols. ‘We all have knowledge’; yes, that is so, but knowledge gives self-importance – it is love that makes the building grow. A man may imagine he understands something, but still not understand anything in the way that he ought to. But any man who loves God is known by him. Well then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: we know that idols do not really exist in the world and that there is no god but the One. And even if there were things called gods, either in the sky or on earth – where there certainly seem to be ‘gods’ and ‘lords’ in plenty – still for us there is one God, the Father, from whom all things come and for whom we exist; and there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things come and through whom we exist.

Some people, however, do not have this knowledge. There are some who have been so long used to idols that they eat this food as though it really had been sacrificed to the idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled by it. In this way your knowledge could become the ruin of someone weak, of a brother for whom Christ died. By sinning in this way against your brothers, and injuring their weak consciences, it would be Christ against whom you sinned. That is why, since food can be the occasion of my brother’s downfall, I shall never eat meat again in case I am the cause of a brother’s downfall.

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Luke 6:27-38

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘I say this to you who are listening: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly. To the man who slaps you on one cheek, present the other cheek too; to the man who takes your cloak from you, do not refuse your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and do not ask for your property back from the man who robs you. Treat others as you would like them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what thanks can you expect? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what thanks can you expect? For even sinners do that much. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what thanks can you expect? Even sinners lend to sinners to get back the same amount. Instead, love your enemies and do good, and lend without any hope of return. You will have a great reward, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.

‘Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate. Do not judge, and you will not be judged yourselves; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned yourselves; grant pardon, and you will be pardoned. Give, and there will be gifts for you: a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap; because the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back.’

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“… forgive and you will be forgiven”

Fall always makes me a little melancholic. Yes, it’s my favourite season of the year; I mean, I love the family gatherings, the start of football season, the smell of pumpkin spice latte at the coffee shops. But there’s also a kind of sadness to it. You see, Fall is when I ‘KonMari’ out my house. The closets are cleaned out, the pantry is stripped down, drawers are emptied, half-used bottles of nonsense thrown out. Any object that does not ‘spark joy’ (as per Ms Marie Kondo) is put in a pile to be disposed or repurposed. It’s a cathartic experience. The fact that I have moved homes three times in the last 5 years means I don’t actually have a lot of stuff. I’d like to think that everything I have held on to has significance. If you don’t stay on top of it though, ‘stuff’ builds up like you wouldn’t believe it! A truly clutter-free home requires near religious fervour! Yes, it’s physically exhausting, but it is also very liberating. I remember feeling euphoric the moment I realized that I could get by with relatively little. There’s been no turning back since!

Knowing all this about myself then, it’s a little ironic that I don’t apply Marie Kondo’s principles of housekeeping to my own heart. Why am I still carrying around the hurts and slights from high school?! So what if people used to make fun of my weight/looks/economic status, etc? Wasn’t all of that ancient history? Why was all this angst still hanging around? So what if there were double standards in my childhood home, or my workplace? So what if I didn’t get that promotion? Does it really matter anymore? So what if my ex was a loser who checked out of our relationship and left me holding a sham? Wasn’t that why we went ‘ex’? Did it even matter in the end?

I’ve set aside a week this Fall to clear out all the chaff that’s clogging up my heart. Marie Kondo was really on to something! If something doesn’t spark joy, let it go! That’s the crux of forgiveness isn’t it? Letting things go. Loving your enemies or, at least, being able to accept them for who they are, so you can move forward. When we feel we’ve been wronged, when our pride is wounded, we tend to hold on to that hurt as if storing away fuel to keep our anger burning. But why? Does it serve us? It most certainly doesn’t make us joyful people. Worse than that, it keeps us from having a meaningful relationship with God and the people around us. Who wants to be around an angry person all the time? So stop now – “stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6: 37). We don’t know when our time on earth comes to an end. Shouldn’t it be our prerogative to live as joyful and free a life as we possibly can?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the grace to forgive those who have wronged us, who have hurt us with their sharp words and wounded us with their insensitive actions. We pray for the maturity to let go of all our anger towards them.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the Holy Spirit, who inspires wisdom and insight. We ask that it guide us to make good decisions, not just for ourselves but also those that God has placed in our lives.

12 September, Wednesday – The Sermon On The Plain

12 September – Holy Name of Mary

This feast is a counterpart to the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus (January 3); both have the possibility of uniting people easily divided on other matters. The feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary began in Spain in 1513 and in 1671 was extended to all of Spain and the Kingdom of Naples. In 1683, John Sobieski, king of Poland, brought an army to the outskirts of Vienna to stop the advance of Muslim armies loyal to Mohammed IV in Constantinople. After Sobieski entrusted himself to the Blessed Virgin Mary, he and his soldiers thoroughly defeated the Muslims. Pope Innocent XI extended this feast to the entire Church.

– Patron Saints Index

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1 Corinthians 7:25-31

About remaining celibate, I have no directions from the Lord but give my own opinion as one who, by the Lord’s mercy, has stayed faithful. Well then, I believe that in these present times of stress this is right: that it is good for a man to stay as he is. If you are tied to a wife, do not look for freedom; if you are free of a wife, then do not look for one. But if you marry, it is no sin, and it is not a sin for a young girl to get married. They will have their troubles, though, in their married life, and I should like to spare you that.

Brothers, this is what I mean: our time is growing short. Those who have wives should live as though they had none, and those who mourn should live as though they had nothing to mourn for; those who are enjoying life should live as though there were nothing to laugh about; those whose life is buying things should live as though they had nothing of their own; and those who have to deal with the world should not become engrossed in it. I say this because the world as we know it is passing away.

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Luke 6:20-26

Fixing his eyes on his disciples Jesus said:

‘How happy are you who are poor: yours is the kingdom of God.
Happy you who are hungry now: you shall be satisfied.
Happy you who weep now: you shall laugh.

Happy are you when people hate you, drive you out, abuse you, denounce your name as criminal, on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice when that day comes and dance for joy, for then your reward will be great in heaven. This was the way their ancestors treated the prophets.

‘But alas for you who are rich: you are having your consolation now.
Alas for you who have your fill now: you shall go hungry.
Alas for you who laugh now: you shall mourn and weep.

‘Alas for you when the world speaks well of you! This was the way their ancestors treated the false prophets.’

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“For the world in its present form is passing away”

Imagine the setting – Jesus has been praying all night. At the crack of dawn, he stirs. His disciples are still as they watch him. He chooses twelve men from amongst them, men he thinks will take his new church forward, who will do his father’s work. He smiles, tired but satisfied. He comes slowly down the hill. His disciples follow tentatively behind. Everyone is hushed, overwhelmed by their thoughts. The rays of sunlight illuminate the thirteen men as they come into sight. Flushed from exhilaration, overcome by emotion, awed by the nearness of Christ, the apostles glow from within.

Standing on the plain that morning watching the whole scene play out, the significance of that visual would not have been lost on the crowd gathered there. They would have remembered the old Hebrew stories of another saviour generations before, one who had liberated his people from slavery, who went up the mountain to bring down God’s commandments. Here, as Jesus addressed the throng, that sense of a new order would not have been lost on them. This was God’s plan for humanity, a plan to save them from their sins, a plan to set them free. Jesus was the new Messiah.

“The world in its present form is passing away” (1 Cor 7:31), cries Paul. This is the fundamental message of the Sermon On The Plain, a message of rebirth and renewal. Through Christ, the old order would give way to the new. Jesus himself had proclaimed as such just a few verses before, in the parable of the ‘old and new’ – “No one tears a piece from a new coat to put it on an old one… no one puts new wine into old wineskins… new wine must be put in fresh skins” (Luke 5: 36-38). This message of renewal is all the more relevant now as our Church struggles to purify itself. There will be some of us whose faith will be shaken, some who will give up and fall away, some who will go back to their old ways. In this time of chaos, when you can’t tell the difference between what’s real or false, or who God’s prophets are, go back to the one thing that is unshakeable – the Word of God. Read the Bible, meditate on its truths. Read them to your children, to your families, to all those close to you. Hold on to it, pray on it. It will be your anchor and your filter. Its message will cut through the noise. In every age, Christ has been the source of all renewal. He will not fail us now if we call to him and hold on to him. Like the throng gathered on the plain that morning, remember that you too have been called, you too are blessed, and you are to rejoice when you are denounced for holding on to Christ.

“Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven!”

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the endurance and spiritual maturity to be able to withstand this time of chaos in our Church. We pray that God helps us to discern His true prophets.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for those who silently toil for the good of God’s house, who live their faith on the understanding that God’s is the only opinion that matters.

11 September, Tuesday – Bad Witness

11 September

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1 Corinthians 6:1-11

How dare one of your members take up a complaint against another in the law courts of the unjust instead of before the saints? As you know, it is the saints who are to ‘judge the world’; and if the world is to be judged by you, how can you be unfit to judge trifling cases? Since we are also to judge angels, it follows that we can judge matters of everyday life; but when you have had cases of that kind, the people you appointed to try them were not even respected in the Church. You should be ashamed: is there really not one reliable man among you to settle differences between brothers and so one brother brings a court case against another in front of unbelievers? It is bad enough for you to have lawsuits at all against one another: oughtn’t you to let yourselves be wronged, and let yourselves be cheated? But you are doing the wronging and the cheating, and to your own brothers.

You know perfectly well that people who do wrong will not inherit the kingdom of God: people of immoral lives, idolaters, adulterers, catamites, sodomites, thieves, usurers, drunkards, slanderers and swindlers will never inherit the kingdom of God. These are the sort of people some of you were once, but now you have been washed clean, and sanctified, and justified through the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and through the Spirit of our God.

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Luke 6:12-19

Jesus went out into the hills to pray; and he spent the whole night in prayer to God. When day came he summoned his disciples and picked out twelve of them; he called them ‘apostles’: Simon whom he called Peter, and his brother Andrew; James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot who became a traitor.

He then came down with them and stopped at a piece of level ground where there was a large gathering of his disciples with a great crowd of people from all parts of Judaea and from Jerusalem and from the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon who had come to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. People tormented by unclean spirits were also cured, and everyone in the crowd was trying to touch him because power came out of him that cured them all.

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“Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit the Kingdom of God?”

Corinth during the time of Paul was a thriving hub of political, spiritual and sexual liberalism. It’s hard to find a modern equivalent to it – an extreme version of San Francisco, maybe? Corinth was also a centre of the Imperial Cult who practiced the worship of Rome’s emperors as divine beings. As a result, the city enjoyed a great deal of wealth. Corinth was where you would go, if you wished to live an unfettered, hedonistic kind of life. The funny thing about that kind of liberalism is that taken too far, it can be exhausting. People ultimately want order in their lives, something lasting to build their life around. God brought Paul to Corinth to tap into this emotional wellspring, this yearning for a simpler and more purposeful way of life.

Within this context, we can understand Paul’s indignation with the elders of Corinth. Christ’s newly established church was to serve as a shining example to the rest of the city. Its elders were supposed to be paragons of the faith. But they let themselves be dragged into the same mud as everyone else. Who wants to join a church if it is led by a bunch of hypocrites? The Corinthians were ruled by Romans! They already knew all about that way of life! No, the people of Corinth were looking for leadership they could get behind, someone to inspire them, someone who would take them to higher ground! They were hungry for it! There was going to be no tolerance for bad witness if Christ’s newly established church was to have any credibility. And Paul understood this.

The world we live in today is not so different than the Corinth of Paul’s time. We are all hungering for credible leadership, seeking a more authentic way of life, looking for something enduring that we can build our lives around. We’re tired of the hypocrisy, the politics, tired of not knowing who we can trust, what is fake news, what is not. We’re tired! And our Catholic Church today, is not so different than Paul’s church in Corinth. We can’t afford any further bad witnesses; the credibility of the Catholic Church is at stake. If we are going to profess that we are Catholic, we too must bear the responsibility of rebuilding that credibility. And we do that by ensuring our own witness is beyond reproach. Our Church has already taken too much of a beating with these recent scandals. Right now, the whole world is watching. The rebuilding and healing starts here – in our communities, in our homes, in our schools. It’s up to each one of us to rise to the occasion, to bear good witness, if we are to begin to right the wrongs and take back God’s house. To borrow a phrase from Gandhi – “Be the change that you wish to see”

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the wisdom, the love and the courage to be good witnesses of our Catholic faith, that we might reflect the light of Christ in these dark times.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for those who support us in our faith journeys; those who help us to carry our crosses when they get too heavy to bear.

10 September, Monday – On Defiance

10 September

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1 Corinthians 5:1-8

I have been told as an undoubted fact that one of you is living with his father’s wife. This is a case of sexual immorality among you that must be unparalleled even among pagans. How can you be so proud of yourselves? You should be in mourning. A man who does a thing like that ought to have been expelled from the community. Though I am far away in body, I am with you in spirit, and have already condemned the man who did this thing as if I were actually present. When you are assembled together in the name of the Lord Jesus, and I am spiritually present with you, then with the power of our Lord Jesus he is to be handed over to Satan so that his sensual body may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.

The pride that you take in yourselves is hardly to your credit. You must know how even a small amount of yeast is enough to leaven all the dough, so get rid of all the old yeast, and make yourselves into a completely new batch of bread, unleavened as you are meant to be. Christ, our passover, has been sacrificed; let us celebrate the feast, then, by getting rid of all the old yeast of evil and wickedness, having only the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

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Luke 6:6-11

On the sabbath Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach, and a man was there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees were watching him to see if he would cure a man on the sabbath, hoping to find something to use against him. But he knew their thoughts; and he said to the man with the withered hand, ‘Stand up! Come out into the middle.’ And he came out and stood there. Then Jesus said to them, ‘I put it to you: is it against the law on the sabbath to do good, or to do evil; to save life, or to destroy it?’ Then he looked round at them all and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He did so, and his hand was better. But they were furious, and began to discuss the best way of dealing with Jesus.

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“Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath, rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?”

Yesterday we talked about how we have a responsibility to seek the truth and speak the Word of God, even if that truth rattles cages. It seems fitting then, that today’s readings deal with defiance. In the first, an act of incest is committed by one of the newly converted Christians in Corinth. It is further implied that the sordid affair has been flaunted publicly at church (1 Cor 5:1-7), with no seeming push back from the congregation’s elders. Instead, everyone has chosen to look the other way. Why was the incestuous couple allowed to carry on? We are not told specifically but Scripture verses reveal the church in Corinth to be deeply factious and intensely political (1 Cor 1-4). Elitism was rife. So it may have been that the sinner in question was someone powerful. Someone no one wanted to persecute. The sin of incest, committed in open defiance of Christ’s teachings, affected the believers’ faith journey in Corinth and the credibility of the new Church. Paul courageously calls this out and urges for excommunication (1 Cor 5: 1-8), that the sinners be “expelled from your midst”. All of this sounds familiar – except that our present day Catholic Church has yet to find its ‘Paul’.

The second incident is Jesus’ seeming defiance of the Sabbath by healing a man at the synagogue. He knows that the Jewish religious elite are watching to see what he will do. The Sabbath is a holy day for the Jewish people. Work of any kind is forbidden. By healing the man so publicly, Jesus was taking a defiant stand – that the spirit of the law was more important than the law itself. Shouldn’t the afflicted man be shown mercy and released from his suffering, especially on the Sabbath? The Jewish leaders saw this as a personal attack on them, instead of the act of mercy and compassion that it was. They took Jesus’ defiance as a challenge to their authority.

It’s easy to discern the significance of things when we have the benefit of hindsight. It’s a little more tricky in practice. When is defiance not an altruistic act? For that, we have to examine our own consciences. We have to pray. And we have to scrutinize the fruits of our actions. Are our actions supported by pure motivations or are we trying to push our personal agendas? Are we working towards the good of God’s faithful or satisfying our own selfish desires? Are we trying to put across God’s message or trying to make ourselves famous? Be certain that if our intentions are anything but noble, the Holy Spirit will see through us and we will find no peace. Judgment awaits all who subvert God’s Word for their own ends.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the wisdom to make good judgments, to see the straight and narrow path, even when it seems to be obscured by a thicket of lies and propaganda. We pray for God’s protection, that He watch over all who labour to put things right in His house.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the Holy Spirit, who helps us to discern God’s message in His Word.

9 September, Sunday – Is The McCarrick Scandal What We Need For Real Reform To Happen?

9 September 2018

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Isaiah 35:4-7

Say to all faint hearts,
‘Courage! Do not be afraid.
Look, your God is coming,
vengeance is coming,
the retribution of God;
he is coming to save you.’

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
the ears of the deaf unsealed,
then the lame shall leap like a deer
and the tongues of the dumb sing for joy;

for water gushes in the desert,
streams in the wasteland,
the scorched earth becomes a lake,
the parched land springs of water.

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James 2:1-5

My brothers, do not try to combine faith in Jesus Christ, our glorified Lord, with the making of distinctions between classes of people. Now suppose a man comes into your synagogue, beautifully dressed and with a gold ring on, and at the same time a poor man comes in, in shabby clothes, and you take notice of the well-dressed man, and say, ‘Come this way to the best seats’; then you tell the poor man, ‘Stand over there’ or ‘You can sit on the floor by my foot-rest.’ Can’t you see that you have used two different standards in your mind, and turned yourselves into judges, and corrupt judges at that?

Listen, my dear brothers: it was those who are poor according to the world that God chose, to be rich in faith and to be the heirs to the kingdom which he promised to those who love him.

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Mark 7:31-37

Returning from the district of Tyre, Jesus went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, right through the Decapolis region. And they brought him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they asked him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, put his fingers into the man’s ears and touched his tongue with spittle. Then looking up to heaven he sighed; and he said to him, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’ And his ears were opened, and the ligament of his tongue was loosened and he spoke clearly. And Jesus ordered them to tell no one about it, but the more he insisted, the more widely they published it. Their admiration was unbounded. ‘He has done all things well,’ they said ‘he makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak.’

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“… He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak”

I couldn’t bring myself to go to church this Sunday. I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t say that I believed in ‘one holy catholic Church’, not with this sickness, these gross abuses of power and the ugly politics around it, that are swirling around the Church right now. God’s house is at war, and this is a plague on all the faithful. If you’re a committed believer, if you have sisters and daughters, if you have young children in your family – you’ll feel something. Betrayal. Frustration. Anger. Despair. Doubt. Of all those emotions, I find Doubt the hardest to work through. Should I stay Catholic? Why am I Catholic in the first place?

I’d like to think that I’m a mature person. I understand there will be a certain amount of politics I’ll have to put up with in any large organization. Some measure of practical worldliness is necessary if I am to function peacefully within the institution that is the Church. But what do I tell my children, when they ask me why I’m still Catholic, with all of the revelations of abuse that have come to light these last few weeks, especially when we were all led to believe that things had turned a corner? What do I tell my young nephew, who will one day read about this and ask me if justice was served, and if not, then why not?

My faith is something I’ve taken as a constant. My father was a converted Catholic and our family followed accordingly. His illness forced upon us a baptism of fire, one we survived because we held on to Christ and the Church. There was safety in God’s house, comfort in the Rosary, healing in prayer. When he passed, we overcame the grief because of our faith. So being Catholic is almost an indissoluble fact. I’ve had to re-examine the basis of that belief this last two weeks. Why am I Catholic? Is my faith because of the comfort I find in God’s house and its traditions or because I have a personal relationship with Christ?

As Catholics, we are taught to follow rules, not to question them. Most chafe against this but those rules provided me a lifeline when I most needed it; when my family most needed it. They gave us constancy when our life was chaos. Mass is built around an orderly set of rules. Catechism is a set of rules. But at the heart of it, being Catholic is not about a blind adherence to rules no matter how comforting we might find them. Our anchor isand should always be Christ, not deference to the Church. Being Catholic is about having a personal relationship with Christ. So how much do I really love him? Do I love Christ enough to take back his house for him, to voice out against this institution that allegedly champions its faithful, this institution I have regarded as ‘home’ for so long? Is this anger within me how Christ felt when he drove out the money changers from the temple courtyard, railing, “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you make it a den of robbers” (Matt 21:12-17)?

This Sunday’s readings are a call to arms. “He (Christ) makes the deaf hear and the mute speak”. Christ commands us all to be indifferent no more. He commands us to see, to hear, to speak His truth, not to turn a blind eye any longer – even if that truth defies, “the wisdom of the wise and makes fail the foresight of the foresighted” (1 Cor 1:19).

It is time for us, God’s faithful, to arm ourselves with the Word of God. It is time for us torise up. “Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared… the tongue of the mute will sing.” We can’t afford to be quiet anymore because one day that child, that daughter, sister, brother that was abused – could be ours. This is our problem as much as it is the problem of the victims who have suffered. Do not be afraid to speak of it when you’re at church. Do not be afraid to ask questions and demand answers of your deacons and your priests, your archbishops and your cardinals. Do not be afraid to voice dissent, to seek the truth. We are owed an explanation, we are owed accountability, we are owed transparency. This is our house too, our faith, our Church. And it has been subverted for long enough. It is time to take back God’s house.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for those who have spoken out against the powerful ruling factions of the Church and who have denounced the politics that cripple God’s house. We pray that God will guide us as a faithful people, to be strong and resolute, to speak His Word and seek His truth, wherever we stand. We pray for our Pope, that God give him the strength and protection he needs to carry out the difficult decisions that are before him.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the Catholic saints that have gone before us, martyrs who were unafraid to speak God’s word, and to act on God’s bidding, even when it came at great personal cost.

21 Jul, Saturday – Holy Lowliness

Jul 21 – Memorial for St. Lawrence of Brindisi, priest, religious, doctor

St. Lawrence (1559-1619) joined the Capuchin Friars in 1575. He studied theology, the Bible, French, German, Greek, Spanish, Syriac, and Hebrew. He was an effective and forceful preacher in any of his several languages, founded convents and wrote catechisms.

As the chaplain of the army of the Holy Roman Empire in 1601, he led the army into battle against the Turks carrying only a crucifix, and defeated them. Later, he carried out important and successful diplomatic peace missions. He was the spiritual director of the Bavarian army. St Lawrence was proclaimed Apostolic Doctor of the Church by Pope John XXIII in 1959.

– Patron Saint Index

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Micah 2:1-5

Woe to those who plot evil,
who lie in bed planning mischief!
No sooner is it dawn than they do it
– their hands have the strength for it.
Seizing the fields that they covet,
they take over houses as well,
owner and house they confiscate together,
taking both man and inheritance.
So the Lord says this:
Now it is I who plot
such mischief against this breed
as your necks will not escape;
nor will you be able to walk proudly,
so evil will the time be.
On that day they will make a satire on you,
sing a dirge and say,
‘We are stripped of everything;
my people’s portion is measured out and shared,
no one will give it back to them,
our fields are awarded to our despoiler.’

Therefore you will have no one
to measure out a share
in the community of the Lord.

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Matthew 12:14-21

The Pharisees went out and began to plot against him, discussing how to destroy him.
Jesus knew this and withdrew from the district. Many followed him and he cured them all, but warned them not to make him known. This was to fulfil the prophecy of Isaiah:

Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
my beloved, the favourite of my soul.
I will endow him with my spirit,
and he will proclaim the true faith to the nations.
He will not brawl or shout,
nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets.
He will not break the crushed reed,
nor put out the smouldering wick
till he has led the truth to victory:
in his name the nations will put their hope.

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Housework really is a thankless task – and the worst part is, it never ends! This has come as a bit of a shock to me in my new vocation. By moving here to the US to share in my partner’s parenting duties, I have exchanged financial spreadsheets and conference calls for laundry and dish washing liquid. It’s a drastic turn of events. Giving up your job is a scary undertaking already, but simultaneously embarking on a life that is diametrically different? Well, it has been more of a struggle than I had anticipated. On the bad days, when the dog is soiling the carpet, the children are grumpy and the dishwasher broken, I do wonder if I have made the right decision. On the bad days, I will ruminate on the pleasures I left behind. And while I am not exactly ‘planning iniquity’, my ‘coveting’ shows that I am ungrateful.

By God’s grace, those bleak moments are few and don’t last very long. When I get that way, I believe that He sends someone or something to help me dig myself out of my black hole of self pity and wallowing. Sometimes it’s a friend who prays with me, sometimes it’s a verse from Scripture, sometimes it is even a billboard I might glimpse while on the highway. He sends us reminders as if to say, no task is too menial or too much of a drudgery to do well. I find it helps not to focus on what’s due to me as well. By fixing my gaze outside of myself, I don’t feed the swells of frustration when they rise up. Resentment has selfishness at it’s root – the person who is unhappiest is the one who is always asking, “What about me?’. My life has been ransomed by Him, so I should surrender myself to serve at His leisure now, so never mind “me”.

Jesus shows us how to handle our calling as servant leaders – “He will not contend or cry out, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, as mouldering wick he will not quench” – in short no moaning, complaining or lamenting! That’s hard in the context of today when we are all about making our thoughts felt and opinions heard on social media. As hard as it is though, we owe it to ourselves to at least try. We owe it to Him to try. Christ Our Redeemer gave his life for us; in silence he suffered, quietly strong till the end. For Him, we ought to do better. We need to do better. We need to be better. And it starts with one menial task at a time.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

Prayer : We pray for the ability to look beyond the drudgery of our daily chores, to Our God who sees no task as too menial, no job as being too insignificant. All are holy in the eyes of The Lord

Thanksgiving : We give thanks for our families, our friends our sisters and brothers in Christ who help lift us up when we are feeling low and frustrated.

20 Jul, Friday – On Annulment

Jul 20 – Memorial for St. Apollinaris, Bishop & Martyr

According to tradition, Apollinaris was a native of Antioch in the Roman Province of Syria. He was made the first Bishop of Ravenna by St. Peter during the persecutions of Emperor Vespasian (or Nero, depending on the source),

On his way out of the city he was identified, arrested as being the leader, tortured and martyred by being run through with a sword. Centuries after his death, he appeared in a vision to St. Romuald. He was a noted miracle worker, and is considered especially effective against gout and epilepsy.

– Wikipedia

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Isaiah 38:1-6,21-22,7-8

Hezekiah fell ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz came and said to him, ‘The Lord says this, “Put your affairs in order, for you are going to die, you will not live.”’ Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and addressed this prayer to the Lord, ‘Ah, Lord, remember, I beg you, how I have behaved faithfully and with sincerity of heart in your presence and done what is right in your eyes.’ And Hezekiah shed many tears.

Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah, ‘Go and say to Hezekiah, “The Lord, the God of David your ancestor, says this: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears. I will cure you: in three days’ time you shall go up to the Temple of the Lord.” I will add fifteen years to your life. I will save you from the hands of the king of Assyria, I will protect this city.”’

‘Bring a fig poultice,’ Isaiah said, ‘apply it to the ulcer and he will recover.’ Hezekiah said, ‘What is the sign to tell me that I shall be going up to the Temple of the Lord?’ ‘Here’ Isaiah replied’’ ‘is the sign from the Lord that he will do what he has said. Look, I shall make the shadow cast by the declining sun go back ten steps on the steps of Ahaz.’ And the sun went back the ten steps by which it had declined.

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Matthew 12:1-8

Jesus took a walk one sabbath day through the cornfields. His disciples were hungry and began to pick ears of corn and eat them. The Pharisees noticed it and said to him, ‘Look, your disciples are doing something that is forbidden on the sabbath.’ But he said to them, ‘Have you not read what David did when he and his followers were hungry – how he went into the house of God and how they ate the loaves of offering which neither he nor his followers were allowed to eat, but which were for the priests alone? Or again, have you not read in the Law that on the sabbath day the Temple priests break the sabbath without being blamed for it? Now here, I tell you, is something greater than the Temple. And if you had understood the meaning of the words: What I want is mercy, not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the blameless. For the Son of Man is master of the sabbath.’

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“… how he went into the house of God and ate the bread of offering”

My husband and I celebrated our ‘first anniversary’ last week. We have been legally married for four years now, but it was only a year ago that we took our vows in God’s house. I didn’t wear a white dress, he didn’t wear a suit. There was no maid of honour, no ring-bearer boy, no audience of parents and loved ones. It was just us two, my RCIA directors, our parish priest … and God. This was the culmination of 3 years’ work, petitioning the Catholic Church for an annulment of his previous marriage. Divorce is a controversial issue, despite the Catholic Church’s efforts to be more inclusive. As part of the annulment process, my husband faced multiple rounds of scrutiny. Our friends and family had to vouch for his character. He was made to see a Church-approved psychiatrist so a third party could attest to his state of mind. It’s heart-breaking enough to go through a divorce, but the Church makes you rehash all the reasons why your marriage did not work out. And you’re asked to justify yourself to a panel of complete strangers. Something like this will test your bond as husband and wife. It will make you think hard about the covenant you’re asking to enter into a second time. Why should the Church grant you its blessing if you couldn’t make it work the first time? Those are the hard questions that you’ll get asked, questions with no easy answers, questions that will make you doubt yourself.

I was deeply moved by how much my husband loved me and his devotion to his faith and God. No one can accuse him of not being ‘Christian enough’; it is no small feat to take on the bureaucracy of the Catholic Church and to keep at it for quite so long. He soldiered on for 3 years despite all their pushback, until we got an answer he was satisfied with. I thought he was valiant, tenacious, inspiring, faith-led. The experience opened my eyes to the depth of his commitment to us and his faith in God.

There’s much debate about whether the Catholic Church should be more merciful to those who have been divorced. Is it Christian compassion to turn away those who yearn to draw near to God? Christ was not afraid to draw close to sinners, why should the Church not try to do the same? If ours is a God of second chances, why should that grace not be extended to divorced believers? But I am not here to judge or complain about the Church. On the contrary, I am thankful to have been confirmed a Catholic. We will all have doubts at some point in our faith journey. To never question and never falter is to not fully engage your faith. The struggle of the annulment process strengthened us as husband and wife. It was one of the most revealing experiences of my faith journey. It gave me a new appreciation for the gravity of marriage as a covenant. James 2:17 says that faith without deeds is dead; I firmly believe that to be the case. You’ll never fully live your faith if you coddle yourself from confrontation, or hide from life’s hard knocks. Yes, there were times when I grew disillusioned with the harshness of the Catholic Church’s responses, but I was also reminded that within God’s house are people who believe in mercy, who are truly selfless, who practice compassion even if the ‘rulebook’ states otherwise, who model Christ’s forgiving heart. I am humbled by all those who helped us along the way. I feel I owe them a great debt for opening my eyes. Yes, the annulment process is a contentious one. If you’re thinking about it, know that your resolve and your relationship will be tested at every step. But take courage and hold on to God… and hold on to each other. It can be a process of great revelation. You will discover things about yourself, your marriage and your faith that you would never have the opportunity to know otherwise. In its own way, it is a blessing.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for all who are dealing with divorce, who are struggling to move forward, who feel as if they are not worthy to be in Church. Christ came to heal the sick and the sinners. He redeemed us though we were unworthy. Christ has not given up on you, you don’t give up on Christ’s capacity to grant you a new life.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all those who are led first by Christ’s love and compassion, who model His forgiving heart, whose gentleness speaks to great strength. We give thanks for all those that God sends to us, to help us when we are mired in the dark periods of our lives.

19 Jul, Thursday – Wisdom In Nature

19 Jul 

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Isaiah 26:7-9,12,16-19

The path of the upright man is straight,
you smooth the way of the upright.
Following the path of your judgements,
we hoped in you, O Lord,
your name, your memory are all my soul desires.

At night my soul longs for you
and my spirit in me seeks for you;
when your judgements appear on earth
the inhabitants of the world learn the meaning of integrity.

O Lord, you are giving us peace,
since you treat us
as our deeds deserve.

Distressed, we search for you, O Lord;
the misery of oppression was your punishment for us.
As a woman with child near her time
writhes and cries out in her pangs,

so are we, O Lord, in your presence:
we have conceived, we writhe
as if we were giving birth;
we have not given the spirit of salvation to the earth,
no more inhabitants of the world are born.

Your dead will come to life,
their corpses will rise;
awake, exult,
all you who lie in the dust,
for your dew is a radiant dew
and the land of ghosts will give birth.

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Matthew 11:28-30

Jesus exclaimed, ‘Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light.’

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“… for I am meek and humble of heart…”

There was a heatwave here in California last week. Temperatures soared through previous highs in many cities. My yard fought the weather shock valiantly, but everywhere I look now, there are clear signs of heat damage. My roses are withered on their canes, my lawn has been scorched a dirty brown, my trees are parched and stressed. It’s a sorry state! There is a silver lining to all this though. Dead chaff will be cleared to make way for new shoots, and the cycle of life will go on.

I’ve never had a garden before, never mind one with so much plant life in it. The simple truths of death and rebirth, sickness and health, struggle and plenty, are played out daily here. There is much wisdom in Nature, if you bother to look. We’ve noticed for instance that our bougainvillea and rose bushes, when starved of water and pruned, grow roots that are deep and strong, and shed leaves to bring forth an abundance of blooms.

The same cycle of regeneration can be applied to our spiritual lives. In today’s gospel text, Christ says that we are to learn from him, to adopt his humility and lack of pride – “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart”. So often, the things that weigh us down are self-manufactured. We covet what we don’t have. We are slaves to our vanity, greed and ambition. We are envious, easily jealous, always reaching for more, always hoarding stuff. If we took on a more Christ-like approach to life, how many of those worldly pursuits would become unnecessary? Meaningless even? We don’t need to go on yet another fancy holiday just so we can keep up on Instagram. We don’t need this season’s ‘It’ bag (and we’ll save a pretty penny without it!). We don’t need to be the envy of our friends, to be seen to be doing things that, in all honesty, don’t matter all that much. We don’t need friends who love us just because of our material things. All of that is fleeting and meaningless. Like the roses in my yard, who rejuvenate when they’ve been pruned back, there is freedom and beauty in a more simple kind of living, in a life that isn’t bogged down by stuff, that is less about showing off than it is about showing up.

There is much wisdom in Nature. Maybe that’s the way God intended it?

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the self-awareness and discipline to prune our lives back so that only the things that matter occupy our hearts and minds. So much is superfluous, burdensome, unnecessary and exhausting. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the many examples of how to live a beautiful life, both in Scripture as well as in Nature.