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About gregrowles

Born Sydney, live Sydney Australia. "People who are intimidated by you talk bad about you with hope that others won't find you appealing

THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD

2-3On this, the last day of the Christmas season, our Gospel reveals to us Jesus’ relation to God: the son of Mary and Joseph is also God’s own Son. The baptism of Jesus is reported in each of the three Synoptic Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Clearly, it was an event of great significance for Jesus and for the early Christian community. The Evangelist Luke report the story from Jesus’ perspective; the voice from heaven is addressed to Jesus.

John was at the Jordan River (the place where the people of Israel crossed over into the promised land), It was to this place, and into this context, that Jesus came to be baptized. Now, we Christians need to remember that our basic understanding of baptism—and of our own baptism—comes from Jesus and from what happened at his baptism, and from what happened after and because of his baptism.

When Jesus was baptized, no one told him what to do. John the Baptist didn’t tell him what to do. And God the Father didn’t tell Jesus what to do, either. The Father told Jesus who Jesus was, how the Father regarded him—“You are my son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” But there’s nothing in there about what Jesus was supposed to do
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Remember, Jesus was a real person who had to make real decisions, just like we do—he wasn’t a puppet or God the Father in a people-suit. Jesus didn’t decide what to do in a vacuum. He lived in his particular world, and that means that he was surrounded by a variety of traditions and expectations of what it meant to be the Messiah, the beloved.

Guided by that spirit he received at his baptism, Jesus did go to the usual Bible verses for his vision of what it meant to be the beloved of the Father, but he went to a fairly obscure part of the Bible—to a part no one, up until then, had much bothered with.

He went to the servant songs of the prophet Isaiah—four powerful poems. (The part of Isaiah we just heard is right in the middle of them. In these passages, God’s chosen one is portrayed not as a king or conqueror—but as a servant: gentle, patient, and burdened with pain. He is a servant who somehow, mysteriously and through his obedient suffering, redeems not only Israel, but all of humanity.

In these passages, the servant of God, the beloved, fulfils none of the popular expectations of a messiah. Instead, he embraces a faithful obedience that leads only through great affliction to his justification and to the victory of God. It’s no accident that the Church insists that we hear these reading from Isaiah during Christmas, during Epiphany, and during Holy Week.

When Jesus came out of the waters of baptism, he was given his identity just like we are at our own baptisms—he was named beloved of God, just like we are. He had to decide where to look to discover how he was to live out that identity. There were lots of options; there still are.

On this Sunday, we should reaffirm our own Baptismal Covenant to remind ourselves that we, too, have been named beloved of God and that we, too, must live that out day by day. What does that look like? What will that look like today and for the rest of our lives? Jesus thought about this. Of all the options he could have taken, he chose the image of the servant, the one who gives up everything for the sake of faithful obedience to God’s word. Today, we again choose Jesus and his vision. That is our glory and our challenge.

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Posted by on January 11, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

THE EPIPHANY OF THE LORD

aco_home_epiphany_2007The visit of the Magi occurs directly before the story of the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt. Of the actual birth of Jesus, Matthew tells us little more than, “When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod . . . ” We hear about the visit of the Magi only in Matthew’s Gospel.

Early books of the Bible testify to the power of stars in the life of ancient people. Job mentions three constellations: The Bear, Pleiades, and Orion. Childless Abram goes out at night and hears a promise from God that he will have many children, as numerous as the stars. Stars are said to “Sing together” and “shout for joy” in the Book of Job, and Psalm 147 tells us God names all the stars and determines their number. Clearly, the stars held meaning for the ancient people of God.

While much about the wise men is unclear, what is clear is that these men are not Judeans, but Gentiles. They are bearing witness to a cosmic event of astronomical proportions: the birth of a baby—though nobody seems to know exactly where he is.

We can imagine their shock when they discover that Herod is clueless about where this baby was located. Surely, King Herod would know if a king were born in his kingdom. It is in this detail that we can see how foreign these wise men are; they are seemingly naïve, unaware of the dangerous politics of Judea and unaware of how different this new king will be from other kings. They are simply seeking the king whom the star announced.

They follow the star until it stops over the place where Jesus was. It’s so simple. While it may seem mysterious and strange to us to follow a star this way, it is not strange for them. It is simply how they understand the world. It is simply how they found Jesus.

We must be open to the many ways people find Jesus, especially the ways that people different from us find Jesus. The Feast of the Epiphany commemorates the manifestation of Jesus to the peoples of the earth. Just as every human culture is unique and different, the ways in which different cultures find and understand Jesus will be different, too. We cannot predict or assume how the diverse cultures within our own communities will find Jesus. We must be open to all the ways the Spirit leads people to our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

The vision John sees in his Revelation contains all the diversity of the human species: “And there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.” They are all worshipping Jesus, celebrating the new life they have found in him. Like the wise men who watched the star stop over Jesus and were overwhelmed with joy, the people in John’s vision are overwhelmed with joy in the presence of God.

Today, we are a community of people from many different backgrounds and places, gathered in the presence of Jesus. This itself is a miracle. This means that there is hope for a better world. This means the good news that Jesus died and rose again is a story for everyone, no matter how far they have come to find him.

You and I are needed to determine the outcome of the Christmas story. And this mission, being a Christian is not easy–it means to be a carrier of God’s torch. We have to stand up for what we believe. God wants you to know this morning that He has a plan for your life. Your life is intended to make a big difference for the kingdom of God on earth.

Let us, like the wise men, look at the signs of the time, let us listen for God’s voice, and let God recruit us again for that most important of mission in the world – spreading the Light of God. So, rejoice today that the wise men followed the star and found Jesus. Rejoice today because we found him, too.

 
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Posted by on January 5, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

The Octave Day of the Nativity of the Lord

Jan 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, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

FEAST OF THE HOLY FAMILY

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? In part, to reveal God’s plan to make all people live as one “holy family” in His Church .In the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, God reveals our true home. We’re to live as His children, “chosen ones, holy and beloved,” as the First Reading puts it.

This feast is part of the Christmas season, and we should place today’s Gospel in the context of what Luke’s Gospel tells us about the birth of Jesus. Luke has been answering the question “Who is Jesus?” through his stories of the births of John the Baptist and Jesus. Today’s Gospel reading continues this theme. It has no parallel in the other Gospels and is the conclusion of Luke’s Infancy Narrative.

Mary, Joseph, and Jesus are presented in this Gospel as a faithful Jewish family. They are participating in the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, an event shared each year with family and friends. When Jesus is found, Luke describes him as seated in the Temple in the midst of the Jewish teachers. Although he is young, Jesus seems not to need teaching about his Jewish tradition. In his dialogue with these learned teachers, Jesus astounds them with his insight and understanding. Jesus is a child of Israel. His Father is God.

The dialogue between Mary and Jesus contains many references to family relationships. In fact, in this Gospel reading Mary and Joseph are never identified by name. Instead they are referred to by their relationship to Jesus. Ultimately, this emphasizes Luke’s point about the identity of Jesus.

When Mary and Joseph find Jesus in the Temple, they question Jesus and express their anxiety. Jesus replies in words that many have thought to be disrespectful. Jesus says that he was never lost; he was at home. Jesus is God’s Son, and he is in his Father’s house. Luke will continue to suggest that faith in Jesus establishes new family relationships as he describes Jesus’ public ministry.

In Luke’s Gospel, Mary’s importance is even greater than her role as Jesus’ mother. Mary is the first disciple and will be present with Jesus’ disciples after his Resurrection at Pentecost.

The Incarnation, Christmas, is about Jesus pitching his tent in the messiness of the human condition, coming to understand our struggle, our messiness, our finitude, our sin, our truth, and then redeeming it all by assuring us that we are worthy of being Jesus’ brother, or sister, of being adopted children of God. Emmanuel, God-with-us, full of grace and truth, so full, in fact, that we can’t help but receive that fullness, grace upon grace. God-with-us, so intimately, that in our quiet moments, when we tune down the law, the fear of intimacy, the running from our imperfections, we can hear Jesus’ spirit in our own hearts, crying out, “Abba!” And Abba saying to each of us, “This is my son, my daughter, with whom I am well-pleased.”

When we encounter Jesus at the manger, we meet God who has come in human form. And God wants a place in our hearts. The fact that God has come to us is good news, news that needs to be celebrated and proclaimed. But the question that remains for us is whether or not we have been changed by the news of Christmas.

Our church is here to cultivate life-changing relationships with God, with one another, and with our community. We welcome Christ into our hearts, and the seed of faith is planted. We may meet Jesus as a baby, but he grows up. Time will tell if our faith will grow as well.

As we approach the New Year, we have the opportunity to allow the good news of Christmas to fill our hearts so that the grace of God can change our lives and our world. That’s why Jesus came. Thanks be to God. Amen.

 
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Posted by on December 29, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

THE NATIVITY OF THE LORD (CHRISTMAS)

1Mary didn’t have a choice about being on the road when she went into labour. Joseph had to register for the census and that meant traveling from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Joseph didn’t have a choice about the fact that this child was not biologically his own. It was a done deal by the time he found out about it. Neither of them had a choice about the fact that Jesus would be born in a stable. There was no room at the inn, so it was either the barn or a ditch by the side of the road. They were made vulnerable by their circumstances: vulnerable to gossip about Jesus’ parentage, vulnerable to physical pain and danger in Mary’s case, vulnerable to a feeling of failing to provide for his family in Joseph’s case.

The shepherds didn’t have a choice about being out in the fields with their sheep in the dark and the cold. The sheep needed tending and guarding, and the sheep were the shepherds’ livelihood, their means of economic survival. The shepherds were vulnerable to the weather and the terrain. They also didn’t have a choice about the visiting angels. The heavenly host descended on them out of nowhere, and suddenly Glorias were filling the air. They were terrified and had no defence against their fear.

As you think about your life this year, where do you feel like you didn’t have a choice? It’s likely that many things come to mind. You don’t have a choice about your own struggles with health or relationships or any of the myriad of things, or the fight to make good choices that you seem to lose over and over.

Christmas is all about God giving us a choice. God places the power in our hands. God comes into our insane world and says to us, “Do you want me? Will you allow me to be born among you? Will you accept this tiny infant as your saviour and your friend and your hope?”

And we’re free to say no. Because underneath that choice is another choice, and that is the true choice of Christmas.

Despair and cynicism and even hatred are actually the paths of least resistance. When something offends us or frightens us, the easiest response is to lash out in anger and self-defence. And with the difficult situations in our lives compounded by the conflicts in our society, our walls are very, very high right now. We will not be caught defenceless. We will not be left unaware. And how does God answer our minds and hearts and communities bristling with self-defence so aggressive that it actually seems to be offense? God gives Godself to us in the most vulnerable form possible: a fragile human baby.

We have to set down our weapons, take off our armour, lay aside our power and control, in order to even see the infant Christ in each other.

But the choice of Christmas that we make is in answer to the choice that God made, the choice to come to us utterly reliant on us humans for his survival in the world. And God took joy in giving Godself to us in this way. So, if we can take the same risk that God did, we can feel the same joy God feels.

And what happens when we do take off the armour? What happens when we stop trying to be right all the time, safe all the time, in control all the time? What happens when we let the light radiating from that small face in the manger penetrate our hearts? Joy. Joy is deeper than happiness or celebration or exuberance. Joy is a force that knocks down all the walls around our hearts and levels us with the goodness, the grace, the unearned and unending love and healing that is our newly arrived Jesus. Joy remakes us, tears down our cynical and fearful identities and gives birth to a self that is trusting, patient, believing, knowing that all will be well, and all manner of things will be well. Joy is the reward of the long-nurtured faith that got us here. Joy is a quiet and lasting foundation that endures while the currents of happiness and grief wash back and forth over the surface of our hearts.

That is what awaits us behind the choice of Christmas. That is what being vulnerable to joy feels like. That is what joy can do to us if we let it—if we have the courage to let go into the miracle.

It’s all up to us. What choice will you make?

 
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Posted by on December 24, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT

1Advent is here to remind us that we cannot save ourselves, but that there is yet hope. Today, with four candles lit on this the last Sunday before Christmas, our Gospel reading prepares us to witness Christ’s birth by showing us how Jesus was recognized as Israel’s long-awaited Messiah even before his birth. Everything — the very shape of human history — is about to change.

Our Gospel reading recalls Mary’s actions after the announcement of Jesus’ birth by the angel Gabriel. Mary goes to visit Elizabeth, her cousin, who is also with child. Elizabeth greets Mary with full recognition of the roles that they and their unborn children will play in God’s plan for salvation. If we were to continue to read the verses that follow in Luke’s Gospel, we would hear Mary respond to Elizabeth’s greeting with her song of praise, the Magnificat. Both women recall and echo God’s history of showing favour upon the people of Israel.

The new dawn is on the way. The weight lessens; hope is born. Hope is more than optimism. In the Annunciation, Mary’s doesn’t initially greet the news of her pregnancy with her song and blazing hope. As she’s absorbing the news from the angel Gabriel that she will conceive and bear a child, he tells her, perhaps to console her: Elizabeth, your relative, is pregnant too, even in her old age! Gabriel doesn’t actually tell Mary to go to Elizabeth, but Luke says she still “made haste” to go to the Judean town in the hill country to see her.

Mary wants to be near someone who understands. Elizabeth, Mary knows, won’t think she’s crazy. And here, with another human being who understands that God works in really weird and unexpected and direct ways, Mary is able to find hope. Not ordinary optimism, but great hope. The kind that catches fire.

Today, Mary invites us to hope big. Optimism looks behind us to find comfort in what we’ve experienced before. Hope — the big, world-shaking, hope of Mary — looks ahead, knowing that we cannot imagine what God is able to do.
The world is too broken, too violent, and too divided, and we alone cannot fix it. Our one spark of hope is that God has spoken and told us that someday, all things — all things — from our personal struggles to the weight of the world’s pain, shall be made right. That hope is why Mary sings.

Today, the Gospel story invites us, like Mary, to seek out others in order to find our hope. It wasn’t until Mary was with Elizabeth in the Judean hills that her hope burst into song. And maybe, whether we know it or not, that’s what we’ve done today, too. We have made haste to gather together so that we, too, can sing songs of hope.

Our song is one of extraordinary hope. Hope that has seen the broken and divided state of the world and knows that it cannot afford to hope too small because we cannot repair the world on our own. Only God can, and only God will. In the meantime, we are called to make our corner of the world that God so loves a less divided, more trustworthy, more hopeful place. We are called to sing.

The best part about Mary’s hope is that it is never hope unfulfilled. Every year, we remember her to remind ourselves that God has already broken through. Even in the darkness, even in the deepest disappointments, even when we are betrayed, and even when the world looks most broken, we keep this crazy hope alive that God has, and God will break through.

We long, hope, wait, anticipate, and we are never let down at the last minute. Every year, Christmas always arrives. Even if we are exhausted or broken hearted, the Light of Christ always comes to the Church. Always. The final candle is always lit.

Advent and Christmas are here every year to remind us that God has already broken through. Despite the world’s pain, the dawn is well on the way.

 
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Posted by on December 21, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT

1This Sunday’s Gospel continues last week’s focus on John the Baptist and his role in preparing the way for Christ. In today’s Gospel reading, the crowds ask John the Baptist for specifics. What evidence of repentance is required? John replies by naming concrete actions: crowds should share their food and cloaks; tax collectors should be just; soldiers should act fairly.

John the Baptist knows his place and role in God’s plan of salvation. By encouraging the crowd to act in accordance with their stations in life, John’s teaching suggests that each person has a role to play in God’s salvation. It is the great mystery of our salvation that God permits and even asks for human cooperation in his divine plans.

This passage shows the diversity of the group. The crowd seems to represent the Jews who have enough; the tax collectors, the outcasts; and the soldiers, the gentiles. They all seek to change their lives. Even though John is harsh in the beginning, he gives advice to them all. John’s advice is not dramatic, he just asks them to turn from what they are doing their own way, and instead to start doing things the right way—God’s way.

The people want to change and are waiting for their Messiah to come. With John’s urgent teaching, they suspect him to be that Messiah, but he knows his call is to clear the way for the real one to come. John is to introduce the coming of Jesus, guiding people to see God’s way. He tells the people that the Messiah, the Christ, is coming with the Holy Spirit and fire. Jesus the Christ will come with the power and great might of God to be among us. The great fire is to cleanse us from our wrongdoings.

John the Baptist is teaching us to care for those in need, to seek justice, and to have integrity. Actually, those are part of what following Jesus the Christ is about. With true repentance to prepare for the coming of the Messiah, rejoice!

John the Baptist is preaching in the wilderness, a place where one may get lost, a barren place that seems to have no life or hope. Wilderness is a good metaphor for us right now. We are in a world bombarded by media, especially social media. We are certainly bewildered by news and fake news, truth and alternate truth. There seems to be no peace in the world. Natural disasters seem to be occurring more often than usual. Hope seems to be dwindling in the world. We Christians need to ask a question: “What should we do?”

We should carry the prophetic voice of John the Baptist. We should change our way of life. The gap between the “haves” and “have-nots” is increasing in society; are we willing to share with those with less? Or are we to continue taking more from others who are already struggling to fill their pockets? Are we to continue to benefit ourselves? Are we to elevate our status at the expense of hurting others? Are we to offer false accusations by telling half-truths or even totally lying? Are we willing to call out ourselves and those who do these things?

John the Baptist has given us the direction to be prepared for the coming of Christ. Are we willing to turn around? Are we courageous enough to hear and heed his prophetic voice?

As a result of John’s preaching, the people were “filled with expectation.” Do we have this effect on the people that we encounter. In our spiritual lives, we are called to confident hope, which is not wishful thinking; it is the rock-solid belief that God’s grace is available to us and will not let us down as long as we take advantage of it. We are called to share this confident hope and joy with others and to let our actions speak loudly of the joy we find in Christ our Saviour.

And as we approach the Christmas season, think of someone in your own life who is sad, or lonely, or hurting, and pledge to say or do something to help bring God’s healing love into their lives. Invite them for a coffee, or a meal. Pay them a visit. Phone them. Show them that they are not alone.

Bear God’s love on your lips and in your lives – and let it overflow into the lives of others, that they, too, may be drawn to God’s love, in Jesus’ name.

 
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Posted by on December 14, 2018 in Uncategorized