Listen, He’s talking to you

5th Sunday of Lent (A)

In a reflection on the Lazarus story, the late theologian, Carroll Stuhlmueller, CP, wrote, “Resurrection (…) is not so much a theological problem as it is a religious experience. It is not an extravagant miracle happening out there; it means the transforming presence of Jesus within us.”[1]

Stuhlmueller does not spend much time discussing the veracity of the Lazarus story in this reflection; he does not go to lengths to affirm Jesus’ power to return life to his dead friend, as told in John’s gospel. He simply states “Jesus did raise Lazarus back to life.”[2] The Lazarus story is less about the facts and more about coming to believe in Jesus and our role in helping others come to believe. It is here that we experience resurrection.

For many, it is comforting to (more…)

God, Where Are You?

5th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

Oh God!

Hi Susan. How’s it going?

I’m mad at you. Actually, I’m furious. And I’m nearly done with you.

Susan, why is that?

Well, for starters, where the hell are you?

I’m here. I’m always here. You know that.

Not feeling it. Not feeling it at all. Sorry.

Well. I am here with you. Trust me. What else?

Seriously? Are you kidding me? Have you been on vacation?

No. I am aware of what you are doing to each other.

And? Why do you allow it? What made you think humans could be trusted? What are you, a masochist?  What kind of Creator allows its own creation to destroy itself?  I’m done with you.

Don’t blame me. I don’t allow these things.

Yes you do, you always have.

There you are wrong. I don’t allow any of it. You do. The atrocities which you commit against one another and your intent to exploit the earth for personal gain, these are human choices. You raised up these human leaders, you gave them power. No, I do not allow these things. You, you are the ones who allow them to be. You always have. 

Why? Why does this have to happen?

I know why.  So do you.

What I know is that there is more good than evil in the world, and that there are a lot of people who believe they are doing your will.

But are they? I’ve been pretty clear about my will.

I know. Can’t you just do something?

I did. I am.  Do your part. I’m here.

I’m trying. It shouldn’t be this way, though.

Susan, I’ve been saying that forever…

“What I’m interested in seeing you do is:

sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families.

Do this and the lights will turn on, and your lives will turn around at once.

Your righteousness will pave your way.

The God of glory will secure your passage.

Then when you pray, God will answer.

You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’

If you get rid of unfair practices, quit blaming victims, quit gossiping about other people’s sins, If you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,

Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.

I will always show you where to go.

I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—firm muscles, strong bones.

You’ll be like a well-watered garden, a gurgling spring that never runs dry.

You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew, rebuild the foundations from out of your past.

You’ll be known as those who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community livable again.”[1]

Isaiah 58:6-12 (from The Message)

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Readings for the 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time, (A)

1st reading: Isaiah 58:7-10
Responsorial Psalm PS 112
2nd Reading 1 COR 2:1-5
Gospel: MT 5:13-16

Scripture note:  Compare the above translation of Isaiah 58:6-12 from The Message with Isaiah 58:7-10 from the New American Bible Revised Edition [NABRE] found on the USCCB website for the 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A). Both quite clearly state God’s will.

For those who are unfamiliar with The Message, it is a contemporary rendering of the books of the Bible, translated from the original languages and the New Vulgate by Eugene H. Peterson (with Deuterocanonical writings translated by William Griffin). Every chapter and verse was crafted to present its tone, rhythm, events, and the ideas of the original text in everyday language.

Why not intersperse readings from The Message with your own bible translation and enrich your prayer life, add layers to your comprehension of the Christian mission, and better actualize the meaning of Scripture into your interactions with others and with all of God’s creation? Try it, you might like it.

Click here for information on The Message: Catholic/Ecumenical Edition

[1] Eugene H. Peterson. The Message: Catholic/Ecumenical Edition. (Chicago. Acta Publications 2013) 1243.

Take the Long View

2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

Here we are again. Back to plain ole winter. Just over one week ago the Christmas season ended, and our families and friends, like the three kings, have departed for their distant lands. Like many of you, I reluctantly boxed up our decorations and my husband dragged our still-hanging-on-to-life Christmas tree out to the curb, both of us bemoaning the shortness of the season (but secretly happy to say good bye to the pine needles in our socks).

With our houses swept clean, it’s time to begin our progression through Ordinary Time, at least for the next eight Sundays, that is. Lent is right around the corner.

The Second Sunday of Ordinary Time always eases its way into a fresh and shiny new calendar year, but this year for many people agita, insecurity, and apprehension about the future have dulled that shiny newness.

At times like these the temptation is to circle the wagons, allow ourselves to complain for a while and hope for the best. Happily, most of us care too much about the future to consider sitting on our hands. I’m in that camp, or at least I strive to be. Despite my occasional “Chicken Little” tendencies, I fight hopelessness and stagnation by taking the long view and making plans.

Earlier this month I reflected on the need for restoration, specifically restorative practices. I was reminded of the work of the late Dr. Erik Erikson, the brilliant German-American psychologist of the past century, whose exploration of human psycho-social growth from infancy through death identified a motivation which he named Generativity.

Generativity resembles the concept of “paying it forward” popularized by the heartwarming movie, Pay it Forward [2000], which, through a series of events showed that the world is a much better place when we share, ad infinitum, our good fortune with others.

Still, paying it forward is just the tip of the iceberg. Generativity is more nuanced; its source is nothing less than primal and its energy emerges from an expectation of a future—a hope for humanity. It is the longest of the long views. Generativity explains why some adults will, for example, plant a fruit tree they may not live to harvest, but do so knowing future generations will be nourished by it. Our current situation and how we handle it is far greater than how it impacts us.

Taken another way, when “a concern for establishing and guiding the next generation” is contemplated Theologically, i.e. “where is God in all this?” we have to see that the compelling impulse behind generativity is love. Love of God, and love of neighbor, and love for God’s creation.

The writers of Sacred Scripture could not help but take the long view. They gave witness to the fruit of generativity; they grasped its divine source, they drank from its fountain and endeavored to illuminate the way so future generations would see God’s goodness as they did, and believe what they knew to be the truth.

The Prophet Isaiah, relaying the words God spoke to him, identified Israel as the Servant of God [IS 49:3, 5-6]. Israel’s return to their homeland after 70 years of exile was the evidence of God’s faithfulness to them. Yet, Isaiah made it clear that their survival alone was not the end of the story. “It is too little,” the prophet proclaimed. The future of all involved entailed carrying the message of God’s liberating power to the ends of the earth. In other words, Israel’s stunning transformation would be like a light to the nations: the entire world would see God’s greatness and be converted.

St. Paul understood this too. It was not enough that he had a personal experience of the risen Lord on the road to Damascus. He was compelled to take what he knew on the road and share it with the greatest number of people for the rest of his life. Paul’s “generativity” is evidenced by the colossal growth of the Christian church in his day. Today’s second reading gives us a clue to Paul’s mission [1 COR 1:1-3]. At first blush it looks to be a typically wordy Pauline salutation, but attend carefully to Paul’s words. Far more than a “Dear friend, how are you, I am fine” Paul’s salutation discloses his grasp of the divine origins of his apostleship and the enduring nature not only of his role, but that of the Corinthian church, sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, from now on, and for all to witness. Pay it forward.

Even John the Baptist understood it was too little to proclaim the nearness of the Kingdom of God. He knew it was not enough to preach a message of repentance and then baptize countless individuals for the forgiveness of sin. When he recognized Jesus, he knew there was more.

“John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” [JN 1:29]

I wonder if the Baptist’s words comparing Jesus to a sacrificial animal sent a ripple of shock through the crowd. And, as if to explain how he arrived at this astonishing conclusion John continued, piecing his experiences together until everything he had done up to that point made sense:

“I did not know him, but the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel.” John testified further, saying, “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven and remain upon him. I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.” [JN 1:31-34].

I also wonder if John realized then that his role in preparing the way for Jesus was nearing its completion. Didn’t he later take a step back from his work, out of the first-century spotlight, saying, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”? [JN 3:30]

Be a light for the nations.

Who is expected to carry this light today? Look in the mirror. It is the Church—you and me—it is our prophetic role to be a light so that God’s goodness is visible to all, so that all may receive it and be transformed.

That’s generativity, that’s paying it forward. That’s how we keep moving forward, despite the darkness.

Happy New Year, light bearers.

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Readings for the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A

First Reading IS 49:3, 5-6
Responsorial Psalm PS 40:2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10
Second Reading 1 COR 1:1-3
Gospel JN 1:29-34

What is Your Better Part?

16th Sunday of Ordinary Time (C)

This weekend Christians around the world will hear the story of two sisters—followers of Jesus— who welcomed Jesus into their home. In this story, the behavior of one sister, Martha who was “burdened with much serving” [10:40] is contrasted with the behavior of the other sister, Mary, who sat at Jesus’ feet “listening to him speak.”[10:39]

Here’s the translation from the New American Bible (Revised Edition). And here’s how some contemporary readers might hear it:

Jesus was welcomed into the home of a woman named Martha. Her sister Mary sat next Jesus so she could listen to his words. Meanwhile, Martha went into the kitchen to put the final touches on the feast she prepared. Soon, overwhelmed with mixing drinks, serving appetizers, setting a perfect table and making sure everyone was comfortable—all with no help from her sister—Martha went to Jesus and asked him to tell Mary to help her. But instead of the response she expected from Jesus, he reprimanded Martha by saying she was focused on all the wrong things, and that Mary had chosen the better part.

Hmmmph. I can’t like that[1].

In the first place, why is it that when we envision this story unfolding we automatically put Martha in the kitchen? Nowhere in the text is food or drink or any of the other acts of domestic hospitality mentioned. Luke was a clever writer; if food was part of the story, he would have included it.

Second, how is the exaggerated competition between Martha and Mary helpful, knowing that among the Christian faithful there have always been those whose service leans more heavily towards ministerial service, and others more towards prayer and spirituality? Furthermore, wouldn’t we agree that a life well lived involves a delicate balance of both? Is Luke suggesting Jesus thinks one is better than the other?

Are we to infer from Jesus’ words that Mary’s example is superior to Martha’s?

Here’s what Jesus actually says to her: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” [Luke 10:41-42]

The pastoral interpretation, of course, is that Mary represents contemplation and Martha represents action, and that “one who serves actively can only do so after having listened to the word at the feet of Jesus.”[2]  Obviously that is true. There’s nothing wrong with this explanation, plus, it takes some of the sting out of Jesus’ words to Martha. But this understanding is too simple, too literal, and it sidesteps the elephant in the room.

Was Jesus singling out Mary’s “better part” at the expense of Martha’s service?

As a woman in ministry, this question makes me uneasy. Two millennia after the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, women of faith continue to struggle to participate in the life of the church beyond Mary’s “better part.” Even while there have been advances in women’s involvement, and Pope Francis continues to call for greater roles for women in the church and he has agreed to create a commission to study the role of the female deaconate in the early church, the partial interpretation of Jesus’ words to Martha for contemporary men and women is concerning.

Of the various methods and approaches to biblical interpretation recommended by the Pontifical Biblical Commission, the Historical-Critical method is deemed indispensable. “Holy Scripture, inasmuch as it is the “word of God in human language,” has been composed by human authors in all its various parts and in all the sources that lie behind them.” [3]

Each of the books of the New Testament was written with the purpose of presenting the story of Jesus to a specific community during a particular time in world history, in response to their circumstances. Therefore, as part of our interpretive method, it is vital that we attempt to understand the focus and intended message of every author.

Barbara Reid, O.P., esteemed Professor of New Testament Studies, Vice President and Academic Dean of Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, and author of numerous acclaimed titles[4] and articles on Luke-Acts, and Paul, offers compelling scholarly evidence in her book, “Choosing the Better Part? Women in the Gospel of Luke,” that the common interpretation of the Martha and Mary story may not be what Luke intended.

Reid notes that in the original Greek, Luke uses both the noun diakonia, and the verb diakonein in verse 40. Both words “in the Christian communities of Luke’s day, designated a wider variety of ministries.”[5] In our translation, found in the NABRE[6], verse 40 reads “Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” [Luke 10:40; emphasis mine]

St. Luke was a brilliant writer who artfully connected the experience of the early Christian Church, his community, to the teachings of Jesus Christ. Due to his frequent depictions of women interacting with Jesus—far more than any of the other gospel writers—Luke is frequently portrayed as a friend to women, but this theory has been questioned. Stories like Martha and Mary provide valuable insight into feminine presence in the early Christian mission, but are we to infer that by their inclusion Luke’s community supported their involvement in ministerial service?

Since the word diakonia was used throughout the New Testament to mean ministerial service there is no reason to believe that Luke intended it to mean anything else. In other words, Martha was overwhelmed with the amount of ministerial service that needed to be done, and she took it upon herself to do more than she could, perhaps like many of us do today.

So why then does Jesus praise Mary’s part when she is seated silently at his feet? Is Jesus saying that Martha should stop ministerial service? Is Jesus saying that Martha should sit down and be quiet?

Other New Testament texts[7] make it known that divisions over women’s ministerial service (diakonia) were on the rise, therefore the presence of women in the gospels did not necessarily indicate acceptance of their ministerial participation. As Luke Timothy Johnson writes, “The interpretation of what Luke says on any subject must take into account where in his story he says it.”[8]

For example, is it possible that Luke’s intention in positioning the story of Jesus, Martha and Mary after the empowering stories of the mission of the seventy two disciples, the affirmation of the privileges of discipleship, and the story of the Good Samaritan may have been a subtle way to curb women’s participation in ministerial service (diakonia)? It seems possible that this could be what Luke intended.

Still, when I read and reread and then read Jesus’ words again, I don’t hear them supporting Luke’s intention, if we are to believe it was to diminish Martha’s service.

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” [Luke 10:41-42]

Jesus is not suggesting to Martha that she should throw in the towel, sit down and be quiet. If this was the case, what could possibly be life-giving about Jesus words?

What Jesus said was an affirmation of Mary’s part, not a negative judgement against Martha’s. Mary had chosen “the better part” and it would not be taken from her. What Mary was doing was “the better part” for her.

That means there were other “parts,” one of which Martha was involved in (diakonia). Martha’s fault, which Jesus pointed out, was that she was “anxious and worried many things” when there was “need of only one thing.”

Barbara Reid asks her readers to consider, “What would it mean for our day to “choose the better part?” Would it be different for each person and each community and each age? If this last question is answered affirmatively, then we might begin to act out of a vision that allows for the rich diversity of gifts in the community to be used in service without regard to gender distinctions. Both men and women called to contemplative listening and women and men called to all forms of ministry would together hear Jesus’ approval of their having “chosen the better part.”[9]

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[1] “I can’t like that,” the frequent, now classic, words of protest spoken by my eldest daughter as a child.

[2] Barbara E. Reid, Choosing the Better Part: Women in the Gospel of Luke. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press. 1996. 144.

[3] “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church” Presented by the Pontifical Biblical Commission to Pope John Paul II on April 23, 1993 (as published in Origins, January 6, 1994) http://catholic-resources.org/ChurchDocs/PBC_Interp-FullText.htm#Sec4

[4] Barbara E. Reid, O.P. is the author of Abiding Word: Sunday Reflections for Year B (Liturgical Press, 2011; Year C, 2012, Year A, 2013), Taking Up the Cross: New Testament Interpretations Through Latina and Feminist Eyes (Fortress Press, 2007; Spanish translation: Reconsiderar la Cruz, Editorial Verbo Divino, 2009), The Gospel According to Matthew. New Collegeville Bible Commentary Series (Liturgical Press, 2005), Parables for Preachers (3 volumes; Liturgical Press, 1999, 2000, 2001; Spanish translation: Las Parábolas: Predicándolas y Viviéndolas (Ciclo A, B, 2008, 2009), Choosing the Better Part? Women in the Gospel of Luke (Liturgical Press, 1996), A Retreat With St. Luke (St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2000), and many journal articles.  Forthcoming is Wisdom’s Feast: An Introduction to Feminist Interpretation of the Scriptures (Eerdman’s Press, 2016).  She is General Editor for Wisdom Commentary Series, a new 58-volume feminist commentary on the Bible (Liturgical Press).

[5] Barbara E. Reid, Choosing the Better Part: Women in the Gospel of Luke. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press. 1996. 147.

[6] NABRE, New American Bible (Revised Edition). Released on March 9, 2011, the New American Bible, Revised Edition (NABRE) is the culmination of nearly 20 years of work by a group of nearly 100 scholars and theologians, including bishops, revisers and editors. The NABRE includes a newly revised translation of the entire Old Testament (including the Book of Psalms) along with the 1986 edition of the New Testament.

[7] 1 Cor 14:34-35, 1 Tim 2:12, Titus 2:3-4, for example

[8] Luke Timothy Johnson, Sacra Pagina: The Gospel of Luke. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press. 1991. p 5

[9] Reid, 162

My Hungry Ghost

28th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

A guest post by Buddhaguysays.

I spend my life fighting my own selfishness, the urge to filter the world through the lens of “what’s in it for me?” As I have aged, raised a family, moved forward in a career, made friends, become part of various communities, this selfishness—my hungry ghost— has continued unabated and in fact has grown and expanded. It now has become tinged with worry and fear: “What if I don’t have enough to retire on, what if my way of life—my comfortable way of life—gets unhinged in some way through financial loss, illness or separation from family, or changes in my routine, or my community?” On, and on, and on the feedback loop goes.

I fight this urge to cling.  I strive to be “ego-less” to get outside myself and turn towards others. This I know is the right path, the path that my Catholic teaching exhorts as do the great wisdom teachings I have explored and tried to embrace in my lifetime.  But man, is it hard.  It is a battle I wage regularly and more often than not, I lose.

The reading from the Gospel of Mark contains the well-known passage: “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” [MK 10:25]. Jesus advises a rich man to sell all he has and give to the poor in order to attain treasure in heaven.  After the rich man leaves, despondent over this daunting requirement, Jesus tells his disciples that “there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age…” [MK 10:29b].

In my simplistic reading of this gospel, it is the call for me to be “ego-less” to stand in relation to God, which of course means in relation to my neighbor (broadly defined as all of humanity and not just those in my family, town or country) within whom God dwells.  It is about turning off the filter that clings and hoards and says “what’s in it for me?” and turning on the filter that says “this life is not just about me, it is about God and all of God’s creation and living according to the gospel teachings.” This message is the hardest for those who have the most to lose.

I know the truth in this teaching. My selfish hungry ghost however is my constant companion. The battle continues.

Today’s readings can be found here. 

Justice is the indispensable basis for peace: Oscar Romero, Martyr.

http://www.cruxnow.com/church/2015/03/11/archbishop-oscar-romero-to-be-beatified-may-23/

Today, with the beatification of Oscar Romero, his life, ministry and martyrdom will be recognized. I think it’s appropriate to reblog this post which I published on March 24 to mark the 35th anniversary of his assassination. The post includes links to all four of Romero’s pastoral letters. When read in order, from the first to the last, the letters give witness Romero’s heroic mission to call out the unjust, inequitable, and inhumane practices of the powerful minority—a mission which ultimately cost him his life. Thank you, Blessed Oscar Romero, for your example of discipleship.

The Good Disciple

Oscar-Romero Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador (Born: August 15, 1917— Assassinated: March 24, 1980)

Today, March 24, 2015, marks the 35th anniversary of the assassination of Oscar Romero, Archbishop of El Salvador, whose martyrdom was a direct result of his outcry for human rights and social justice for the poor, and who is expected to be beatified on May 23, 2015. Regardless of one’s information or misinformation related to Liberation Theology, I believe Romero’s four pastoral letters, written between April, 1977 and August, 1979 should be required reading for anyone who claims to be on the side of social justice. Each letter addresses, defends, and directs the Church’s response to the increasingly grave situation faced by the suffering majority of poor and oppressed—themes which remain profoundly, globally relevant—and shines a light on Romero’s own transformation and conversion.

Last year as part of my graduate studies at CTU (Catholic Theological…

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Ruined for life.

5th Sunday of Lent (B)

If you want to see Jesus, look for people who commit themselves to serving the poor.

You can see Jesus in the young adults who commit to one or more years with faith-based organizations such as the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. You will see Jesus in the many men and women who discern a vocation as lay missioners—a choice which leads them far from home and family—in order to improve the lives of the disadvantaged and to create a more peaceful and just world. Maryknoll Lay Missioners is one such organization through which lay persons can live out this calling. You will recognize Jesus in those who even after their time of service has passed make career and life choices that continue to reflect those Gospel values of service, justice, and living in right relationship not only with other humans, but with all of God’s creation.

From the time we are children the world tells us we own our lives, and we go to great lengths to save them. As adults we toil away, lining our nests and filling our storehouses. And when someone from our own family or neighborhood chooses a life of service and simplicity, we find it odd, incomprehensible, even. Our admiration of their “goodness” might be mixed with fear for their safety and, let’s be honest, some suspicion that they are postponing getting a “real job.” It challenges our own beliefs about life and makes us uncomfortable. But isn’t this self-giving, this willingness to lay down one’s life, to let go, and to be the servant precisely what Jesus meant when he said “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.”? [John 12:25]

Former Jesuit volunteers will say they are “ruined for life,” meaning there is no return to life as they once knew it. Their eyes have been opened. And once opened, they remain open. They cannot ignore the needs of the world. They have died to themselves, but what comes forth is far greater. “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground…” [John 12:24a]

In the nearly five decades since Fr. Jack Morris, SJ started the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, more than “12,000 Jesuit volunteers have served tens of thousands of individuals and families at hundreds of sites around the world” including 38 locations here in the United States. I only wish the number was greater. Is it a luxury for a recent college graduate to be able to volunteer one or two years rather than seek employment? Yes, unfortunately it is. Most students have loans to pay off and don’t have the freedom for full-time volunteerism before entering the workforce. While it is not unheard of for someone to leave a lucrative career for a life of service, it is generally difficult to reverse the career track once it has been started. Still, some adults look for ways to serve in their retirement. I recently heard about a couple who, after the marriage of their youngest child, sold everything they owned and now live as lay missioners overseas. Wow.

Obviously, a sacrifice on this level is not for everyone, nor is it expected. Still, aren’t we are just like the Greeks who asked Phillip “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” But do we understand that to “see” Jesus is to enter into the reality of his life? “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” [John 12:24] In taking on the role of servant in whatever capacity our lives permit, we might be lucky enough to experience the same disastrous outcome as the Jesuit volunteers.

Ruin yourself for life; perhaps someone will see Jesus in you.

Today’s readings can be found here. 

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For more on the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, visit http://www.jesuitvolunteers.org. And to learn about Maryknoll Lay Missioners, visit http://www.mklm.org.