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Monthly Archives: March 2016

SOLEMNITY OF EASTER SUNDAY

1-7

JOHN 20:1-9 
KEY VERSE: “He saw and believed” (v 8).

Jesus is nowhere visible. Yet today’s Gospel tells us that Peter and John “saw and believed.”

What did they see? Burial shrouds lying on the floor of an empty tomb. Maybe that convinced them that He hadn’t been carted off by grave robbers, who usually stole the expensive burial linens and left the corpses behind.

“Did anyone see what happened?”

That question is one of the first asked by police officers when they are called to the scene of a crime.

It is also one of the first questions asked by reporters when they arrive to cover a breaking story.

That question also comes to our lips when we hear about some surprising event.

When something unexpected and extraordinary occurs, people want to hear from eyewitnesses who saw what happened.

This Sunday, Easter Sunday, we hear about the most important event in human history, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The obvious question that comes to mind, and surely was asked that first Easter Sunday by the Pharisees and the scribes, by Pilate and Herod, and by the people of Jerusalem and especially by the disciples of Jesus was, “Did anyone see what happened? ”

The Gospels report there were eyewitnesses to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem; eyewitnesses to his feeding a crowd of thousands with a few loaves and fish; eyewitnesses to his making the crippled walk, the deaf hear and the blind see; eyewitnesses to his restoring Lazarus to life; eyewitnesses to his being transfigured in glory and appearing with Moses and Elijah; and eyewitnesses to his death and burial.

But when it comes to the Resurrection, there are no eyewitness accounts in the Gospels reporting what happened at the tomb that first Easter Sunday. No one saw what occurred except for God and his angels.

However, this Sunday’s Gospel (John 20:1-9) does provide us with evidence found at the scene. We read that the stone that was sealing the tomb was removed, an indication that something happened. Then, besides reporting the tomb was empty, the Gospel makes a point of speaking about the burial cloths used to cover the body of Jesus. It says the disciples who went into the tomb saw the burial cloths and the cloth used to cover the head of Jesus “not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.”

If the body of Jesus had been secretly removed or stolen, those taking the body would not have removed the cloth wrappings and they would not have carefully folded up the head covering and put it in another place. Those taking the body would have acted as quickly as possible since there were guards near the tomb.

While there were no eyewitnesses to the actual event of the Resurrection, there were and continue to be eyewitnesses who can testify that Jesus Christ is risen and alive. The disciples, as we will hear in the Gospel accounts read during this Easter Season, saw the Risen Lord. They spoke with him. They touched him. They ate with him.

This is the meaning of Easter. This is why, weeks later at Pentecost, or years later in the church’s preaching, Peter and Paul could be so convinced, so committed, so sure, so joyful. Gradually the darkness of the early Easter morning gave way to the light of understanding that Jesus “had to rise from the dead.” Easter light often begins in Easter darkness.

Furthermore, we also encounter the Risen Lord as the scriptures are proclaimed, as we celebrate the liturgy, as we share his Body and Blood in Holy Communion, and as we gather together as Church – the living Body of Christ.

Even if we have gone to the tomb in early morning darkness, even if we have been fearful and confused, Easter offers us the truth of the coming sunrise. Then we can sing with confidence the Alleluias of the Easter liturgy, and proclaim in joy that “Christ indeed from death is risen, our new life obtaining.”

We, in a sense, are eyewitnesses. We have seen the Risen Lord, not coming out of the tomb, but coming into our lives!

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Posted by on March 26, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

HOLY SATURDAY

HolySaturday

We stand in the middle of the great Triduum, the three great days of our Lord’s work. These three days are the holiest of days.  What happened on these days long ago are the only events that ever truly changed the world. And today we find ourselves living once again in the day of silence. Living on the boundary between Good Friday and Holy Easter, we find ourselves stopped for a moment, to tread water with Christ in his being-dead for us.  Today we are stopped in our tracks by the narrative of death and burial.  On Holy Saturday, God proves that there is no abyss of sin and godlessness that he cannot descend into.  The depths of God’s love run every bit as deep as the depths of sin and death which we unleash upon the world.  And tomorrow we will learn that the depths of God’s love run infinitely deeper than the abyss of sin…but we’re not there yet.  When we look at the God of Holy Saturday, the Trinitarian, cruciform God and ask ourselves how we might possibly image this kind of love, we find ourselves drawn into God’s loving descent into the depths of our sin for our salvation.

When we say that we, as the church are the image of the Trinity, we are making the daring statement that we are joining in the pattern of Christ, in giving ourselves away, in expending ourselves for other, in putting others before ourselves, in loving others even to the point of death for their sake.  This is what the life of the Trinity looks like when translated into the life of the sinful world.

And so, as we seek to live and be the body of Christ, the one who descended into hell for us, his body lying cold in the grave, let us with humility and sobriety remember the horrifically great cost of love.  God’s love for us cost him what was most precious to him, his own Son.  If we would follow God, if we would be the ikon of his love in the world, the same pattern of self-giving must be true of us.  We must, if we seek to follow God, descend into the world of sin and suffering and expend our love on all the unlovely people that we meet.  And, as with Christ it may mean our death.  But here is the miracle of Holy Saturday: Because Christ has died our death for us, we are never alone in death.  “For this reason Christ died and lived again, that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.”

 
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Posted by on March 25, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

GOOD FRIDAY

 

1-7

JOHN 18:1–19:42
KEY VERSE: “It is finished” (v 30).

In the agony and crucifixion of Jesus God was not hurt merely by sympathy with the latest prophet to be martyred. God suffered in Christ. In the Passion of the Son, God shows that he keeps company with us, is one with us in all the suffering that is built into our fallen human existence. Jesus identifies himself with the guilty. He dies the most degrading death, the culmination of a ministry in which he kept company with the sick, the possessed, the despised and devalued. His suffering and dying and descent into hell is God living our life.

Theologians have constantly shied away from saying the two words outright: God suffers. It has been the mystics and the artists of the church who have had the daring. One of the classic places it has been said in our tradition and century is in a famous scene from Helen Waddell’s novel Peter Abelard, about the great theologian of the middle ages who was punished and exiled for his affair with his pupil Heloise. Abelard is with his companion Thibault in the woods and they come upon a dead rabbit mangled by a snare.

He looked down at the little draggled body, his mouth shaking.

“Thibault,” he said, “do you think there Is a God at all? Whatever has come to me, I earned it. But what did this one do?”

Thibault nodded. “I know,” he said. “Only-I think God is in it too.”

Abelard looked up sharply. “In it? Do you mean that it makes Him suffer, the way it does us?” Again Thibault nodded.

“Then why doesn’t He stop it?”

‘” I don’t know,” said Thibault “But all the time God suffers. More than we do.”
Abelard looked at him, perplexed …. “Thibault, do you mean Calvary?”

Thibault shook his head. “That was only a piece of it-the piece that we saw-in time. Like that.” He pointed to a fallen tree beside them, sawn through the middle. “That dark ring there, it goes up and down the whole length of the tree. But you only see it where it is cut across. That is what Christ’s life was; the bit of God that we saw. And we think God is like that, because Christ was like that, kind and forgiving sins and healing people. We think God is like that for ever, because it happened once, with Christ. But not the pain. Not the agony at the last. We think that stopped. ”

Abelard looked at him, the blunt nose and the wide mouth, the honest troubled eyes. He could have knelt before him. “Then, Thibault,” he said slowly, “you think that all this,” he looked down at the little quiet body in his arms, “all the pain of the world, was Christ’s cross?”
“God’s cross,” said Thibault. “And it goes on”

Good Friday is the time for us to ponder this mystery. It could help us realize how revolutionary the doctrine of the Incarnation is. If Jesus is nothing more than the greatest prophet of God, then we can leave God out of suffering in heaven. But if the Crucified is God, then God is revealed as the one who is with us in suffering. The concept of God as a remote and dispassionate observer is smashed.

What effect might it have on your own life to ponder this mystery? First, you may find your understanding of sin changing. We think of sin as a kind of lawbreaking or failure God observes from afar, with disapproval. But this is very much farther from the truth than the description of sin as “grieving the Holy Spirit” (Eph. 4:30). Sin is what we do to block and frustrate God’s action in our lives. Sin is thwarting and injuring the loving presence of God in our hearts.

Second, you may find your way of thinking of God’s presence in the world undergoing a change. If God suffers, then God truly can be recognized by faith as present everywhere. We will stop praying to God to pay attention to this suffering or that tragedy. God doesn’t need to pay attention to suffering because he is already present in and with the sufferers, and from that place of pain is moving us to contribute our caring and loving to his.

Third, contemplating the mystery of God’s cross will change the way we come to terms with our own pain. If we have explored the mystery beforehand we may, when Sickness, death, betrayal, or disappointment befall us, be better prepared to see that God is not far from us, but keeps us company and continues to hold us up with those hands that from the beginning of time have been pierced with unimaginable nails.

But such is the mystery that all the Good Fridays left to us in this life will not be enough to sound its depths. Only by seeing Christ in the glory of the Father with his hands, feet, and side still pierced with wounds will we grasp the mystery-or be grasped by it.

 
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Posted by on March 24, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

HOLY THURSDAY, MASS OF THE LORD’S SUPPER

1-8

JOHN 13:1-15 
KEY VERSE: “If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet” (v 14).

It’s important to note that generally it was the servants’ job to wash their master’s feet, not the other way around. But it’s just like Jesus; just like our Lord, it’s just in His nature.

Peter was often the spokesperson for the disciples. Peter was in Jesus’ inner circle, he accompanied Jesus when he went to raise Jairus’ daughter from the dead. He was there to witness Jesus’ Transfiguration.

So it comes as no real surprise at all that Peter is the one who voices his uneasiness and disapproval towards what Jesus is doing in this gospel text. By the time Jesus gets to Peter, he has totally convinced himself of how unworthy he is. His natural response in his impulsive enthusiastic way is “No way am I letting you wash my feet… I should be washing yours, Jesus… You are the Lord… I am your servant…unworthy…let me wash yours…”

We get like that with Jesus too, don’t we?

We remind Jesus of our shortcomings, of the things we didn’t do, can’t do, or don’t do well. When in actuality Jesus wants to wash our feet. Jesus wants to make us shareholders and partners in His work. We convince ourselves that, because of our past, because of our failings, we are unworthy. We do not allow Christ to wash our feet. To say the same thing another way, we refuse to become shareholders and partners with Christ.
The key to the symbolism of the foot washing lies in the conversation between Jesus and Peter. It is difficult to be certain whether, since he was often the spokesperson, Peter is voicing a concern of the group or if he is acting impulsively on his own. Maybe the other disciples thought that they deserved to have Jesus wash their feet.

Nevertheless, whatever the reason, Jesus’ gesture is definitely an invitation to be a shareholder in God’s work, the invitation to become partner. Jesus’ response to Peter is characteristic to who Jesus is. His response to Peter in light of his adamant objection to his feet being washed can possibly be the mantra by which we all live our lives. “You don’t understand now what I’m doing, but it will be clear enough to you later…” There is a lot of truth to Kierkegaard’s quote: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” Jesus goes on to say “If I don’t wash you, you can’t be part of what I’m doing.”

Foot washing is symbolic of humility, loving servant-hood and partnership. What Jesus was saying to Peter is that foot washing is so important that without it a disciple is not in partnership with Him. Without it you cannot share in the ministry of Jesus, you’re not part of what Jesus is doing. Matthew 12:30 states: “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me, scatters.” Jesus is showing Peter by example as opposed to dictatorship that without humility and loving servant-hood, partnership is not possible.

And Jesus says the same to us today in 2016. As we go into Easter and beyond we are called to wash each other’s feet. By extending love through servant-hood we realize we are being shareholders and maintaining our partnership with Christ.

In having Jesus wash our feet, in washing each other’s feet…what we are saying is “yes” to God again. Yes, I want in on your ministry; your servant ministry; your ministry of love; your ministry of healing; your ministry of blessing. That’s what we do every Maundy Thursday, in the symbolic washing of feet.

And then Today when we receive Holy Communion, our Lord will renew his commitment to us. He will wash our feet, cleanse our hearts and minds, and fill us with his strength, and we are then shareholders and partners with Christ by serving Christ in others and being served by Christ.

 
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Posted by on March 24, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

PALM SUNDAY OF THE PASSION OF THE LORD

 

1-11

Palm Sunday is about involvement and commitment – and the difference between the two. Those who followed Jesus on the final leg of his journey into Jerusalem singing his praises were surely involved. And, to prove their interest and involvement, they lent Jesus their presence and their voices this special day. According to the Gospel of Luke – as we heard moments ago at the Blessing of Palms – one of them presumably even lent him a colt to ride on as he came down into the Holy City “from the Mount of Olives.” Echoing the words of the angels at Jesus’ birth, they all proclaimed, “Glory in the highest heaven,” and spread their cloaks before him. They were involved.

But like all of us here today they likely also had their responsibilities and preoccupations. What might have been a fun outing one day, welcoming the latest prophet into town led quickly enough to the duties and errands of the next day and beyond. By the time Good Friday had rolled around, no one was left to lay down branches or cloaks for Jesus, much less chant hosanna before him. All, including his disciples, had abandoned him. Jesus was on his own. Our own hosannas this day are soon enough muffled by the recitation of the Passion narrative of Luke and the story of Jesus betrayal and death. “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord,” turns with a start to, “Crucify, crucify him.”

God on the other hand is always found to be firmly committed to God’s people, Israel. In our first reading, the Prophet Isaiah proclaims, “It is the Lord God who helps me. “Isaiah knows instinctively that God is always more ready to show mercy and lend assistance than we are to accept it, God’s commitment, remains unwavering.

Nor of course does Our Lord waver in commitment to us – and to all humankind. That is the message of Jesus’ Passion and death. Like the people of ancient Israel, we may be fickle or even erratic in our life of faith but Jesus never once fails us or lets us down. As Paul explains it in our reading today from his Letter to the Philippians, Christ “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.” There can be no greater commitment than that.

So, Palm Sunday takes us on a liturgical and emotional roller-coaster ride like no other day of the church year. The involvement of the crowds at Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem challenges us once again to reflect on the commitment that led Jesus to give his life for our redemption. Amid the many “changes and chances of this mortal life” this or any week we dare not forget the Cross.

It would be easy enough for any of us to come to church on Palm Sunday, to “let sweet hosannas ring,” to gather a palm frond or two, head home, and not return until Easter Day. What a fine religion we have, we might be tempted to think: Palm branches and hosannas one Sunday, Easter lilies and alleluias the next. But if we did not pay attention to the Passion Gospel and the story of Jesus’ death we would have missed an essential piece – perhaps the essential piece. We would have missed the commitment and covenant that the whole story is about. We would have missed Good Friday.

Jesus enters the Holy City of Jerusalem on a colt provided for the purpose by a stranger. Like the throngs surrounding him that happy day, perhaps he too was caught up and engaged in the moment and the spectacle. But days later, as we know only too well, he leaves the City for the last time not on a colt, but on foot and carrying a cross, given over to the enormous task of winning our redemption one painful step at a time.

No matter where our life journey and its twists and turns may take us, as followers of Christ our voyage of faith leads most assuredly through Jerusalem and on to Calvary with our Lord. Like good pilgrims the world over and like Jesus himself, we too must walk the way of the cross. There is no other route home. For, only at the cross does our Lord at last turn our feeble involvement into the commitment and Covenant of Calvary and the assurance of our salvation.

The point of this Sunday, is precisely this: that we follow Christ with lively faith into the mystery of his death and resurrection. The enthusiasm of our procession with palms has led us in a matter of minutes to hear of the “Suffering Servant” who humbled himself to death, death on a cross, and the story of God giving Himself for our salvation. And yet, what we celebrate on this day and in this week, is not the entire story. The story is complete for us only when we truly listen to it, and commit ourselves to living it daily:

“United with Christ in his suffering on the cross, may we be united with him in his resurrection and new life.”

This week may we also live the gift we have received: the Paschal Mystery of dying and rising in the Lord.

There are two ways that each one of us can be a living image of Christ’s Passion to those around us: by words and by deeds.

By our words. We should not be afraid to speak of Christ and the meaning of his Passion. We are his messengers. He wants to reach out to others through us. Who needs to hear the message? Maybe we can think of someone right away. Maybe we just need to be ready and willing, so that the Holy Spirit can work through us.

And by our deeds. This week, we can image Christ’s Passion by doing what he did, by sharing our neighbour’s burdens, by taking upon ourselves the crosses of others.

It may be as simple as inviting someone to come and participate in the Holy Week liturgies.

Today, let’s ask Christ to show us what to do, that we will carry the palm branch not only in Church, but everywhere we go, that we will do our part to be ambassadors for Christ.

 
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Posted by on March 18, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

FIFTH SUNDAY IN LENT

 

JOHN 8:1-11 
KEY VERSE: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (v.7).

1--9

Today’s First Reading and Psalm look back to the marvellous deeds of the Exodus. Both see in the Exodus a pattern and prophecy of the future, when God will restore the fortunes of His people fallen in sin. The readings also look forward to a still greater Exodus, when God will gather in the exiled tribes of Israel which had been scattered to the four winds, the ends of the earth.

The new Exodus that Israel waited and hoped for has come in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Like the adulterous woman in today’s Gospel, all have been spared by the Lord’s compassion. All have heard His words of forgiveness, His urging to repentance, to be sinners no more. Like Paul in today’s Epistle, Christ has taken possession of every one, claimed each as a child of our heavenly Father.

In the Church, God has formed a people for Himself to announce His praise, just as Isaiah said He would

“Who am I to judge?” Those five words spoken by Pope Francis in July of 2013 are among the most remembered and quoted words of the Holy Father. Those words were part of his reply to a reporter’s question dealing with homosexuality.

Those famous words of Pope Francis might come to mind as we listen to the Gospel reading for this coming Sunday. (John 8:1-11).

There we hear how a group of scribes and Pharisees drag a woman before Jesus as he is teaching in the area of the Temple. They breathlessly declare, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”

Those scribes and Pharisees were interested in his opinion because they believed they had ensnared Jesus in a trap.

If Jesus said the woman should be stoned, he would defy the authority of the occupying Romans who had forbidden the Jews to condemn anyone to death. But if Jesus said the woman should not be punished, he would disregard the Law of Moses. He would be accused of being an unfaithful Jew.

But Jesus refused to be drawn into the trap set by the scribes and Pharisees. He said, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” With those words, Jesus announced that whoever cast the first stone would be publicly declaring that he was sinless and perfect in the eyes of God. Jesus bent down to write in the sand.

What was Jesus writing? Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen suggested that Jesus was writing the sins of the accusers, sins buried deep within the hearts and pasts of all who would consider themselves blameless in the eyes of society. Regardless of what Jesus wrote, the effect of Jesus’ words was clear. Each individual, the elders first, and gradually every accuser, was confronted with a grim reality: the reality that they were not as blameless as they would give the appearance of being. It was no surprise that everyone drifted away. Who is without sin?

We might surmise that in that situation Jesus might have used the words of Pope Francis, “Who am I to judge?” Who are you to judge this woman?

However, if we look carefully at that reading, we see that Jesus did judge. He obviously judged the Pharisees and scribes as being hypocritical, hostile, and insincere.

He also judged the woman. She was guilty of adultery. Even she did not deny the accusation brought against her.

But while Jesus judged the woman, he did not condemn her to be defined by her adultery. Instead he set her free that she might move beyond her sins. As Jesus told her, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”

Jesus did not refrain from judging someone as doing wrong, but he did refrain from condemning people as lost and beyond God’s mercy. Judging those who are worthy of condemnation belongs to God alone and not to us. Certainly Pope Francis proclaims that very message in this Year of Mercy. “All Christians are missionaries of God’s mercy.”

How shocking it must have been that a woman condemned to death walked away into the new life of one who has been forgiven. How shocking it must necessarily be when we, the Body of Christ, act with the same mercy and compassion of Jesus in our world today.

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

FOURTH SUNDAY IN LENT

1-7

LUKE 15:1-3, 11-32 KEY VERSE: “But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again” (v 32)

In today’s First Reading, God forgives “the reproach” of the generations who grumbled against Him after the Exodus. On the threshold of the promised land, Israel can with a clean heart celebrate the Passover

Reconciliation is also at the heart of the story Jesus tells in today’s Gospel. The story of the prodigal son is the story of Israel and of the human race. But it is also the story of every believer.

We believe that we should get what we deserve – what we have worked for and earned. We believe in fair play. If we work overtime when requested, we expect to be paid for those hours and paid at a higher rate than usual.

If we achieve the highest grades possible during our four years of high school, we expect to be recognized and honoured at graduation. We believe that we should get what we deserve. If that does not happen we get angry, upset, and complain that life is not fair.

The Prodigal Son is a story familiar to all of us. The parable emphasizes that God is not like that in how God loves us. God desires our return, which is one of the themes of Lent.

Perhaps you have decided Lent hasn’t worked out for you this year. There were too many distractions: projects at work, hot weather, stress, nothing offered at Church you were interested in – the list can be as long as you like. Maybe next year.

Or, maybe now? All it takes for the prodigal son is to turn around. Just one action changes everything. He has a speech rehearsed, but picture in your mind the father seeing his son from afar and running to meet him. Do you think he waited for the son’s speech? Of course not. He ran to him and embraced him. The time to talk came later. In one sequence from a ballet version of this story the son crawls up to his father, then the son climbs up onto him, and his father, who is wearing a voluptuous robe, embraces his son until he is completely enfolded in the robe. That is the vision that awaits us.

So, harmony restored and back in the fold, life for us can go on. But that is not why we have the story of the Prodigal Son today. The intention of this parable is more than just a restoration of relationships with a loving God.

The passage from Second Corinthians begins with the words:
“ For anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation; the old creation has gone, and now the new one is here. It is all God’s work. It was God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the work of handing on his reconciliation…” This business of being reconciled isn’t about us as much as it is about what we are commissioned to do.
We cannot do this without our relationship with God and each other, and that restoration gives us the energy and guidance to do the work for which we were baptized. As is often said, “You may be the best Christian someone has ever met.” And then, like the father in the parable, we wait patiently, prayerfully, for the return of those to whom we are sent.

Lent is not just about each of our journeys and us. It is also about to whom we are sent and how we minister to the other, the stranger, the friend, the family member who see no need for a relationship with God or the community of faith. It is about having the strength to give a cup of cold water to the least and the lost. It is about sorrowing over what we have done to creation and finding ways to help restore it. It is about sowing seeds of hope in the midst of darkness and chaos.

So far Lent may have been nothing to you. But today determine it is the time for you to approach the altar with repentance and faith that God meets you and will feed you with the body of Christ, the bread of heaven. Think of this moment as a time when God is reaching out in mercy. Then, having been fed the bread of life, walk out the door into God’s world prepared to be an ambassador for Christ.

This is a fitting theme for the Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis. We are called to love and to forgive those who have hurt us or have disappointed us. To rebuild relationships that have been damaged or broken. To invite those who have fallen away to enter into a new sense of mercy and to work towards reconciliation with others so that they may encounter Christ in a renewed and more profound way. As we continue with our Lenten journey and approach Easter, let our prayer be one of seeking, spreading and receiving God’s message of love and mercy.

 
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Posted by on March 4, 2016 in Uncategorized