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Monthly Archives: December 2017

SOLEMNITY OF MARY, THE HOLY MOTHER OF GOD

1-1Eight days have passed since we celebrated Christ’s birth on Christmas, and St Luke paints a picture of the shepherds making their way to the stable cave at Bethlehem and there are three verbs that describe the shepherds’ actions are not mere coincidence – they are the inspired pattern of how every Christian should live out the message of Christmas.
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First, St Luke tells us that the shepherds “went in haste” to find Christ, to seek him out amid his family. They were eager to meet the Saviour, to spend time with him, to get to know him, to receive his blessing.

That’s why Jesus came to earth in the first place – so that we could more easily find him. The history of humanity is the history of a people lost in darkness and searching for meaning, forgiveness, grace, and light. Jesus is the source of all those things. He is our salvation. That’s the significance of the name “Jesus”, which means “God saves.”

The Jews traditionally had their boys circumcised on the eighth day after their birth. During the ceremony, the child would also be given his name. St Luke tells us that Joseph and Mary followed this tradition with Jesus.

Circumcision was the sign of God’s covenant with ancient Israel, and the most important thing about that covenant was God’s promise to send a Saviour. Receiving one’s name at the same time that the boy was circumcised was a symbolic way of emphasizing that the boy’s life, his very identity, was now tied up with that promise. And performing the ceremony on the eighth day was also significant. God had created the universe in seven days. But that creation was wrecked by original sin. The eighth day is a symbol of the redemption – the first day of the new creation in Christ.
God’s promise of blessing, our identity, redemption and everlasting life – this is what Christ comes to give us, therefore we, like the shepherds, should be eager to go and look for Christ, to find him each day in prayer, the Bible, and the sacraments.
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Second, the shepherds “repeated what they had been told about him.” The news the angels announced to them was too good to keep to themselves. They felt a need to share it, to tell others about the Saviour. That is always a sign of an authentic encounter with God.

Even on a merely human level – if you find a great book or Web site, you tell your friends about it. When we truly experience Christ, even just a little bit, something similar happens. Our hearts automatically overflow with a desire to share that experience. And if we don’t feel that desire, it probably means that our friendship with Christ needs some maintenance.

Being committed Christians doesn’t make us immune to temptation. If we are not careful, we can fall into routine. We can come to Mass, say our prayers, keep up appearances – but underneath it all, we can be falling into spiritual mediocrity.

An excellent thermometer for mediocrity is precisely this: if we feel an inner urge to spread Christ’s Kingdom, to bring others into Christ’s friendship, to share our experience of Christ – as the shepherds did, then we know we are spiritually healthy.

But if we don’t feel that urge – it is a warning sign that our friendship with Christ is growing cold, and that we need to “make haste” to Bethlehem to take a fresh look at our Saviour.
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The third verb that Mary used to describe this scene to St Luke is a double verb. St Luke tells us that after the shepherds made haste to come and see Jesus, and after they told their amazing story to everyone who would listen, they ” went back glorifying and praising God for all they had seen ” When we seek Christ and share Christ, he fills our hearts with a deep, inner joy.

The shepherds were so full of this joy that they couldn’t hold it in. Materially and economically nothing had changed. They didn’t have more money, a better job, a nicer house, or even a few more Christmas presents. And yet, if while they were walking back to their flocks someone had asked them, “What did you get for Christmas,” they would have had a ready answer.

They would have said, “We have seen God, our Saviour, and we have seen his Mother. And now we know that God loves us more than we could ever have imagined.” Their bank accounts weren’t affected by their encounter with the newborn Christ, but they were immeasurably richer on Christmas Day than they had been the day before. And if we follow in the shepherds’ footsteps this year, actively seeking Christ in prayer, the Bible, and the sacraments, and bringing Christ’s grace and presence to those around us, we too will experience the true joy of Christmas – all year round.
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The shepherds are models for every Christian. They clarify what’s most important in life: seeking Christ, sharing Christ, and rejoicing in Christ. But life for the shepherds didn’t end on Christmas. They had to return to the humdrum of the daily grind. And after today, we will too.

How can we keep the meaning and lessons of Christmas shining in our hearts even after we take down the Christmas lights?

Mary, whose motherhood we remember in a special way today, gives us the secret.

Mary didn’t let life’s hustle and bustle drown out the beauty and wonder of Christmas. St Luke tells us that “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” God did not tell Mary his entire plan. We know much more than she did about how everything was going to work out. She had to walk in the dim light of faith, one step at a time, trusting in God, witnessing his action, and seconding it whenever she could. But she paid attention. She pondered in her heart all of God’s gifts to her, all of his words and deeds. Today in Holy Communion we will receive the Body of Christ, which was formed in the womb of Mary.
When we do, let’s ask our spiritual Mother, the Mother of God and of all Christians, to teach us how to take care of the precious faith we have received and renewed during these days, just as she took care of the baby Jesus.
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Posted by on December 31, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

THE HOLY FAMILY OF JESUS, MARY AND JOSEPH

1-10Why did Jesus choose to become a baby born of a mother and father and to spend all but His last years living in an ordinary human family? It is a great mystery why God became human. But the good news; the great news is that He did. And it is how “God drew close to us, so that we could see him, touch him and come to know him.” God, through Jesus, “one of us,” who fully entered our world and “dwells with us, rejoices with us, cries with us, bleeds with us, and triumphs with us.”

The gospel today shows a devout Jewish family, Mary and Joseph bringing Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem to present to the Lord as their first-born. The parents were observant Jews, who introduced Jesus to their religious tradition soon after his birth. Jesus was shaped by that tradition from his earliest days. It was in and through his family that he came to know the God of Israel, that he learned to pray, the psalms, that he first heard the stories of the Jewish Scriptures. He was immersed in the Jewish tradition by his parents. Yet, as he grew older he made that tradition his own and took it in a direction that, at times, his parents and family found very difficult to understand. Simeon hints at that in his words to Mary in today’s gospel, “a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Mary and Joseph made obedience and faithfulness to God and his commands their priority. Because of the culture they created in their home, Jesus “grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.”

In the Holy Family, we see humility in the birth of Jesus and the quiet attendance of Joseph. We see justice in the presentation at the temple when Mary and Joseph offer to God the honour due to Him in response to the birth of their son. We see fortitude in the trek to Bethlehem despite the crowds. We see patience as Mary holds in her heart all the mysterious encounters that will eventually lead her to the foot of the cross. We see mercy in Joseph’s decision to quietly divorce her, and then in his decision to stay by her side. We see, of course, obedience, faith, hope, and love. And all the ways that we celebrate being family – at the family meal, at the kitchen table doing homework, celebrating the great holy days and holidays, and coming to Mass – remind us that it is the love between parents and children and brothers and sisters that get us through the joys and the crises; the triumphs and the tragedies. Christ is truly present in our families just as certain as he was a part of the Holy Family—and it is that every presence that makes our families holy.

Most of us will have picked up the faith from our parents; they introduced us to the religious tradition that was important to them. As Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to the temple to present him to the Lord, our parents brought us to the church for baptism. It was probably in the home that, like Jesus, we too learnt to pray and heard the stories from the Scriptures for the first time. Yet, there comes a time when, like Jesus, we must make the tradition we received from our parents our own. Like Jesus, we too may go on to shape it and give expression to it in ways that our parents might find unsettling. We receive the faith, but we must make it our own, because what is the faith only a relationship with the Lord, which, while we share it with others, is very personal to each one of us. It is said of Jesus at the end of the gospel that he grew to maturity. We spend our whole lives growing to maturity, and it is in and through our own personal response to the Lord’s call of us by name that we will come to full human maturity.

And today, at this Mass, we bring all the stuff of our family lives; all the fragmented parts of our families, and we place them on the altar before God, along with the gifts of bread and wine. And we express our gratitude for family while we also pray for love that reflects Christ’s love for us who first came to us in a family.

 
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Posted by on December 29, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Dawn Mass for Christmas

1-17Christmas is about many things for many people. It is about Santa and gifts; about families and feasts. It is about cards and cakes; about songs and shopping. But the truth underlying all of this is that at Christmas we remember that God chose to intervene in the lives of one couple and in so doing intervened in the lives of all people in the form of a tiny baby, born in an obscure village in the middle of an occupied nation.

This is our memory of God and it lives on in the hearts and minds of people today because if God could act in that way then, God can certainly act once again in our lives today.

As I have said frequently before, everyone loves a baby, but Christmas is not about babies. Christmas is about the myriad ways in which God makes a home: in our hearts; in our homes and in our world.

Mary and Joseph were not an ideal couple. Mary was an unwed, pregnant, no doubt illiterate teenage girl and it was probably an arranged marriage. Mary and certainly Joseph did not come from an ideal family, just look at the scoundrels, thieves, schemers, foreigners and adulterers whom Matthew and Luke tell us where in his family tree. Bethlehem was not an auspicious town and the stable where Mary gave birth was not an ideal place for such an event.

When we remember the story of Christmas, we remember how God intervened in the life of one less than ideal couple, and we look at our own lives, we have hope. If God can work in the life of Mary and Joseph, then he can work in my life too.

When we remember the story of Christmas and we remember how God intervened in the life of one family, and we look at our own families, we have hope. If God can work in a family full of scoundrels, thieves, schemers, foreigners and adulterers who make up Joseph’s ancestors, then he can work in my crazy family too.

When we remember the story of Christmas and we remember how God intervened in the history of one town, one nation and he did it in the noise and smell of a barn, we have hope. If God can be born in a barn 2000 years ago, then he can be born in the chaos, and violence and uncertainty of our world today.

We celebrate Christmas year after year, not just because we love the food or the carols or the tradition but because year after year but as in the carol O Come All ye Faithful we are reminded that just as God did not abhor, meaning dislike, the Virgin, neither does God abhor us. It doesn’t matter that our lives, or our families or world are not perfect. What matters is that we make a space, not matter how small, for God in our hearts. When we do that, God will do the rest and Christ will once more be born in the Bethlehem of our lives and the mangers of our hearts.

Memories are a powerful thing and the memory of God taking human flesh and living among us is perhaps the most powerful memory of all, because it reminds us that just as God loved Mary enough to make a home in her womb and in her heart, so he loves us enough to make a home and a manger in our hearts as well.

Christmas is about memories, and the memory we celebrate today is the memory of God’s love. In the craziness of our lives, our families and our world today, remember one thing: that God really does love you and wants to make a home in your heart just as he made a home in that stable so many years ago.

 

 
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Posted by on December 25, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

THE NATIVITY OF THE LORD (CHRISTMAS)

1-10God is good so good at timing. God always does things at just the right time; that’s one of the things that makes tonight such a great story! In those days our story begins, the Emperor ordered that all the people in the empire be registered in their home towns. He was just doing what powerful leaders do counting the people, so he could collect taxes. But God used the Emperor’s decree to accomplish another deeper purpose, God’s purpose. It looked like the time belonged to the Emperor, but it really belonged to God!

The census sent people home to comply with the order. Among them were a man named Joseph, from Nazareth, in the north of Palestine, and his very pregnant wife, Mary. They needed to go to Bethlehem, many miles to the south, the home town of Joseph’s ancestors one of whom was the revered King David.And it was Mary’s time. While they were there in Bethlehem the time came for Mary to deliver her child.

And we all know the story. Full of travellers, tiny Bethlehem was out of lodging. They had to stay in a stable perhaps attached to one of the crowded inns. And there Mary gave birth. Unnoticed by the world, left like so many refugees to fend for themselves with inadequate resources, the couple brings Mary’s child into the world. But that’s not what makes it a great story.

The story is great because, not only was it Mary’s time it was God’s time!

It was God’s time to intervene in the world and begin setting the world right, after centuries of darkness. Centuries of longing for God’s presence, God’s vindication, God’s mercy, God’s justice to shine in their lives and brighten the whole world. Centuries of despair, and cruelty, and sin, and darkness, and death.It was time!

Time to give birth to a new world and that’s what God did, almost unnoticed, in that birth long ago in Bethlehem! The child born Jesus was not just the child of Mary and, as people supposed, the child of Joseph; JESUS WAS THE SON OF GOD!

It was time! Time for God to set things right, make the creation new
So, what does God do? God sends messengers to shepherds! Shepherds. Among the lowest of the low. Despised, ostracized, humble, stinking shepherds.

And Angels visited the shepherds at night. At night, when fears are heightened, anxieties are more real, and danger is ever-present. God chose the time and God chose to come at night, when the world was darkest and most afraid. And in this great story, the shepherds hear a message: Don’t be afraid! We have good news, of great joy! A child has been born today! He’s Son of David, Messiah of Israel, Saviour of the world, Lord of the universe. But you won’t find him in a king’s palace. You’ll find him in a manger, wrapped in bands of cloth like any other peasant child. He’s born for you. Today! Hurry! Go!

Today. That’s God’s time. Today, when we do our living and dying. Today, when we do our sinning and our hurting, our kindnesses and our loving deeds. Today, when we fear, and today, when we hope. Today, in our darkness, and today, in the dawning light. That’s Gods time TODAY!

And the shepherds go. The shepherds go with haste they hurry into town to see what they’ve been told. And they are amazed. They share the message they received from the angels. And, although they go back to their fields, back to their sheep, they now have reason to give God praise and glory. They’ve been changed, changed profoundly and completely, by Gods entrance into their lives.

Its GOD’S time. TODAY!

Not only for shepherds, but for you! The child is born for you, for me, for all the world and he come bringing Gods light and love and joy and peace and forgiveness and justice TODAY! And THAT’S what makes it such a great story.

Tonight, the invitation is extended to each of us. Its time! Its Gods time to act, act graciously and lovingly and God has done just that, in sending Jesus.

And it’s our time to respond.

Respond like the shepherds, and hurry to the manger, to see what God is doing, in time TODAY! Experience the wonder, marvel at the humble beauty, bask in the love poured out, abundantly, lavishly, for you, for me, for the world.

And then, respond like Mary. Mary treasured all these words all these things shed seen and heard and pondered them in her heart. Ponder. Its time, now, to ponder. Don’t be in a hurry to put Christmas behind you. Or, more accurately, don’t be in a hurry to put Christ away for another year! Take it in. The humble beauty of this night, of what God has done today! Soak it up. Let it refresh you, renew you. And then offer God the praise God deserves for creating such a wonder.

Its time. Its Gods time to do something beautiful for you, for me, for the world. And God has done just that! It is a great story, after all!

And its time, now, for us to take our part in the story. Today

 
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Posted by on December 24, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT

1This Sunday we read the story of the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary about the birth of Jesus. On this fourth Sunday of Advent, the liturgy shifts our attention from John the Baptist to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Both John and Mary serve as important figures for our reflection during the season of Advent; they both played instrumental roles in preparing the way for Jesus. This week we reflect upon Mary’s example of faith and obedience to God, traits which permitted her to receive the angel’s message that God’s Son would be born as a human person, as one of us

Scripture is filled with God showing up in the most unlooked-for places and the unlikeliest of people. People have encountered the God in bushes that burn, raging whirlwinds, pillars of fire, and under starry night skies, on the tops of mountains, at wells in the noonday sun, and strangers bearing gifts. No matter how often we look for God in the familiar places, God will somehow be revealed in the unexpected, the unlooked-for, and the unpredicted.

Jesus’ birth to an unwed teenaged mother, in a backwater town a little north of nowhere, was perhaps God’s biggest surprise of all. No great kings or rulers to welcome the Messiah. No fanfare, just a manger bed on an average night, punctuated by the message of the angels and the bewilderment of shepherds. God surprised the world in the extraordinarily ordinary birth of Jesus.

As we make our way once more with the shepherds and angels towards Bethlehem, we celebrate God’s favour for the last, the lowest, and the least. At Christmas, with this tiny helpless child in Mary’s arms, we see God making the common holy, the mundane mighty, and the everyday extraordinary.

This is the good news at Christmas and beyond: that God is found not in a mansion but in a manger, not in a palace but in a poor house. The Good News about Jesus that we, as the Church, here, now, today are called to preach, is that we will be surprised at who God chooses to deliver the message of hope.

In a world filled with wars and rumours of war, injustices, and violence, we need the message of the angel. God finds us in our need and raises us up.

As we turn toward Christmas, the question we who look for and follow Jesus must ask is this: Have we heard the stories so often that we fail to see or share the surprise? Have we drained so much of the mystery from the world that we are no longer able to be startled by the workings of God?

If so we leave little room for God to work in and through us. When the mystery of God is regimented, regulated, and relegated to be contained within four walls on any given Sunday, we have ceased to seek the surprise of God’s in-breaking into our world. And yet, God still finds a way to get our attention and fill us with surprise.

As people of God, we are called like Mary to let our lives, our hearts, and our eyes be open for the divine so that we may follow in the way that Jesus has led.

To be amazed by God means that in Christ Jesus there is no work, no ministry, no person beyond our compassionate reach. If we are to be interrupted by God, we like Mary and Joseph must risk stepping out in faith into an uncertain future, knowing that God is out there waiting with just one more surprise.

Like Mary, when we encounter the divine mystery, we can only respond in joyful song. As we journey to the manger once more, may we seek once again to be surprised by a God who finds favour in us, who has lifted the lowly and filled the hungry with good things. May we in our lives and our living magnify the Holy One, may we be messengers of God who seek the divine amid the ordinary and may we in joyful song proclaim the greatness of the Lord. Amen.

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT

1This Sunday’s Gospel invites us to continue our reflection on the person and mission of John the Baptist. Today we depart from the Gospel of Mark and read a selection from the Gospel of John. John’s gospel tells the story of priests and Levites from Jerusalem, sent by Jews to ask John, “Who are you?” The identity of John the Baptist is explored, questioned, established in all four gospels. He is asked this question in today’s reading in the context of “testimony,” according to John’s gospel. It’s a question that Jesus much later puts to his disciples, challenging them to answer: “Who do you, my disciples, say I am?”

“Who are you?” they ask John. And what is his answer? John says he is not the Christ, not the Messiah – not Elijah or any other hero. He says he is not the prophet. John says, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’” This quotes a passage from the prophet Isaiah, but what does it mean?

The religious authorities had sent folks to question John, and John quoted scripture to them. Their own scripture! Their own prophet. Every one of them would have been familiar with this text, would have recognized it. it was the focus of their hope for a Messiah, a great leader and liberator sent from God. They knew these words.

So, John answered: “I am a voice – a voice that cries in the wilderness. Make a straight way for the Lord.

The season of Advent, which runs until Christmas Eve, is all about preparation. We know we’re preparing for the birth of a baby, and some of us may even know that we’re expecting the Messiah to come – but there’s more to it than that.

John says to the people, “Prepare!” Not “I am preparing,” but “You prepare.”

Prepare the way of the Lord. Prepare the world: Lift up, bring down, straighten, smooth. so that all my people can bask in the glory of God.
If this lesson is to be instructive at all, then we must hear and heed John the Baptist’s proclamation of God’s Word. If this lesson is to be instructive for us, then this is also our proclamation, rooted in baptism. We are baptized in the manner of John’s baptizing – with water, but in the knowledge of Jesus and strengthened by the promised Holy Spirit of God.

That lays on us some obligations, some responsibilities, which are part of our baptism. Not luxuries. Not optional promises made. They are vows taken. The proclamation of the Lord’s coming put in our mouths.
It’s not just John who carries the news.

This is part of the story of Jesus, included in all the gospels and read in Christian communities for nearly 2,000 years to remind us, to embolden us, to open our mouths. Prepare the way of the Lord. So not only are we to do the work of making that field level, we are to proclaim the work to others in the building up of community.

The men who were sent to question John asked him why he was baptizing if he wasn’t the Messiah. In other words, “You’re not one of the important ones. Why bother?”

John, in essence, said: “I do this because I can do no other. I have heard the news, and my mouth is opened, and my heart must love.” When John is later asked about Jesus, he says, “This joy of mine is now full.” The third Sunday of Advent is also called Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete, a Latin word which means “rejoice,” is taken from the entrance antiphon for Sunday’s Mass. This theme is echoed in today’s second reading from the first Letter to the Thessalonians. It is a reminder that Advent is a season of joy because our salvation is already at hand.

We have the joyful duty of this proclamation laid upon us, placed in our hearts for our lives together – and in our mouths for the world to know about the goodness of God.

There is more to Advent than an early “Merry Christmas!”

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT

1Our readings this second Sunday of Advent bring both comfort and challenge into our Advent agenda. Our first reading from the Book of Isaiah tells us of the Lord’s compassion and future promise: God’s got this! The Gospel reading according to Mark reminds us to repent before the future is upon us, however!

The Babylonians used their power to enact laws that undermined the foundations of the Jewish people, their culture, and their faith. They used their power to proclaim again and again that they were the winners. Despite all of this, feeling forgotten and alone, strangers in a strange land, God was with God’s people. God did not abandon them.

The prophet Isiah gives many commands in this passage, but the first was to console. To be human is to be vulnerable. Yet, what is especially interesting to notice is that God does not call for consolation alone. Specifically, we are not meant to get consoled, but to be consoled so we can then be moved into action. The way of the Lord is prepared amid our mutual suffering. In our compassion for one another, the way of the Lord is made clear. The Good News breaks through with the promise of new life and a new way of being together.

Shout with a loud voice. From comfort, God’s people are called into action. Not just any action, but an action of proclamation and gathering together, centred on the unwavering promises of God. This call to action is for the whole body. What would it mean for us to take this call to lift our voices seriously? What keeps us as a community from proclaiming the Good News of God for us? Too often, we allow our individualism and busyness to distract us from the call of God. Our individual calendars and task lists put the proclamation of Good News low on the priority list. Yet again, we use our individuality to shield us from the very real call to gather and proclaim. Perhaps this is why following closely after the call to lift up our voices (with strength!) the prophet adds, “Shout without fear.”

God’s word, God’s promises, will stand forever. Here, as we rise to the call to action, we are given a vision of God arriving to fulfil God’s promises. These promises come by way of God’s might, but God’s might is not what we would think. God’s might is not wielded in the same manner of the winners of this world. Yet, in today’s word from Isaiah, we hear clearly that God promises a world reliant on God. It is God who will gather us, care for us, and lead us home.

Here is the Lord coming with power, we rely on God’s power, under the rule of God’s arm. This rule is powerful but does not warp power in the same ways we are used to. Instead, the rule and power of God are about restoration. One can imagine that this is an especially powerful word for a community in exile. One thing is certain: our world needs a God of comfort and justice. That is Good News for which we are to hope. That is Good News to proclaim.

God’s rule for us. God’s rule is a promise. This is a promise to a scattered community, that is not dependent on winners and losers, but dependent on the very being – the essence – of our God. The reward is our reliance on a trustworthy God who never leaves God’s people, no matter how bad things may get. This truth is where we find our comfort and hope. This truth is what we are called to proclaim to all because it is a truth for all. Our scripture today closes with the beautiful image of the new way of life under God’s rule, where we are gathered, held close, fed, and led gently. It is this promise that we await in this Advent season, preparing for the Saviour to come, born a loser in this world, to hang out with losers of this world, named Emmanuel, God with us, so that we may find home in God, with us, for us.

So, let our holy communion with Jesus Christ today be a prayer, a heart-felt prayer for that day of days when he will come fully and finally into our lives, a prayer that echoes the one we are praying together today in our Responsorial Psalm: ‘Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation.’

 
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Posted by on December 8, 2017 in Uncategorized