Category Archives: Church

Prudentius’ “Mary, Did You Know”

All right, this is funny.

One of the earliest Christmas hymns is Prudentius’ “Hymnus VIII. Kalendas Ianuarias” (ie, “Hymn for December 25th”). And the 14th stanza asks the musical/poetical question:

 

“Sentisne, virgo nobilis,

matura per fastidia,

pudorem intactus decus

honore partus crescere?”

 

But the trick here is that the question is, literally,

“O noble Virgin, do you understand,

During your delicate state come to its time, 

That your intact dignity of modesty is to increase

With the honor of your offspring’s birth?”

 

So in this case, the question is not, “Mary, did you know your Son would be the Savior?” but instead, it’s “Mary, did you know how impressive this was going to be, for you?”

The point is that, despite the weird squeamishness of some of today’s Catholics and other Christians about it, the miraculous birth of Jesus was always supposed to be just as miraculous as His virginal conception in Mary’s womb. Mary’s title of “Ever-Virgin” (Aeiparthenos in Greek) is ancient. So Prudentius, our early Christian poet, is of course going to be concerned with (rhetorically) asking Mary if she knew she would remain virgin during and after Jesus’ birth.

But he assumed she’d already gotten the picture on Jesus being the Savior, the Messiah, and God, because he assumed Mary had paid attention to Gabriel’s announcement. I guess today’s songwriters do not assume this.

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Jesus Wants You to Ask for Stuff

It’s okay to want to pray for things you need. It’s a sign of spiritual growth to be happy with what God gives you, or to ask for important things that are worthy of prayer; but the lives of the wonderworking saints tell us that a lot of things are worthy of prayer, according to God.

It’s a sign of spiritual trouble if you are ashamed to pray for what other people need or what you need, or think that prayer is useless. Jesus orders and encourages us on many occasions to ask the Father for stuff we need, to be persistent about it, and not to be afraid that the outcome will be bad. The Lord’s Prayer that He gave us is all about asking for essentials and for eternal life. He’s not a vending machine and the “prosperity gospel” is heresy; but He’s not stingy, either.

John records that Jesus spent a lot of the Last Supper leading up to telling the Apostles to ask the Father for stuff. He’s the true Vine, we’re the branches, and we dwell in Him if we keep His commands. If we keep His commands and dwell in Him and His words and His love, we will bear much fruit. If we keep His commands, we are His friends, and He will lay down His life for us.

John 15:16-17 – “Y’all did not choose me. But I chose y’all and I appointed (etheka: literally, placed, laid down – the same verb in “lay down his life for his friends”) y’all, so that you may go out and bear fruit and your fruit may dwell/remain — so that whatever y’all might ask the Father in My Name, He may give to y’all.

“I command these things so that y’all may love one another.”

John 16:24 – “Up until now, y’all have not asked for anything in My Name. Ask and you will receive, so that the joy of y’all may be filled up.”

So basically, Jesus did all this for us, and we bear fruit in response, so that we can have joy and eternal life, and so that the Father answers our prayers, and so that we love one another. That’s a lot of trouble for the Trinity to go to, if we never ask God for what we need; and it’s ignoring a direct commandment.

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Mary Among the Evangelists

Last night I started reading an interesting book called The Definitiive Guide for Solving Biblical Questions about Mary: Mary Among the Evangelists, by the Rev. Dr. Christiaan Kappes and William Albrecht.

This is a great book for my current interests, because it deals particularly with Gospel information about Jesus, His mom, His foster-father, and the whole situation with His disciples and His extended family. It turns out that the literary structures used by the Evangelists, and the parallel verses and Greek usages in the Septuagint, provide a lot of additional story that is “left out” in most English translations.

Some of it is even present in the original Hebrew of the Old Testament, but still gets ignored, or translated in a non-transparent way. For example, in the story of Jephthah and his daughter, the text doesn’t say “she was a virgin” as it is often translated. The Hebrew says, “she did not know man,” and then the Greek uses “ouk egno andra,” which is the same thing but in the aorist tense. So even though it’s an unusual Hebrew phrase, it does show up in the Bible elsewhere. Even without being native Hebrew or Aramaic speakers, we are supposed to be thinking about Jephthah’s daughter… especially since in the Greek and Hebrew both, Jephthah’s daughter tells her dad, “Let this thing be done to me according to your word.”

Okay, according to your “rhema” in Luke and according to your “logon” in our Septuagint, and according to your “dabar” in Hebrew; but using synonyms is still saying the same thing — especially since Mary’s doing some wordplay, using the same “rhema” that Gabriel just used.

It’s kind of a witty thing for Mary to say, especially to cap the words of an angel — but it comes with a heavy implication that she’s scared as heck. I mean, Jephthah’s daughter was assenting to being killed. And then what does Mary do? She goes up to the hills for a few months and spends time with another woman before coming back home, just like Jephthah’s daughter went to the mountain with her friends for a couple months before reporting home to become a human sacrifice. I mean, yes, Luke is also using Ark of the Covenant language, but the rest of the implications are freaking dark. So the Magnificat is even more amazing in context — Mary is not mourning herself, but is praising God.

The other interesting bit is that, when Gabriel says “rhema,” the primary meaning is “word, thing said,” but the extended sense is “things that happen, factual occurrences.” So he does simultaneously say, “For all things are possible with God” and “For every word will be possible with God.”

So of course, Gabriel is saying “What I’ve just said to you, which comes straight from God, will come true.” But he’s also talking to a girl, who by all tradition and implication of what she just said, is a vowed virgin. Her vow is also a “rhema,” just as Jephthah’s vow was a “logon.” So Gabriel is telling Mary that her spoken vow will not be disregarded; again, God shows His lovingkindness and courtesy. “For with God, every word is not impossible.”

The Bible is deep stuff. You can’t say that too often.

PS – This also makes Jephthah’s daughter the exact female parallel to Abraham’s son Isaac, by making Mary the New Jephthah’s Daughter against Jesus being the New Isaac. She is the ewe lamb who does her part, even though her Son is the True Lamb of God. This time it’s the daughter who is spared and the Son Who dies. Last time, the women mourned Jephthah’s daughter every year; this time, Mary is “blessed among women” and “all generations shall call me blessed.”

Another interesting bit is that Jewish tradition is adamant that Jephthah should have tried harder to get out of his vow, by asking around, and by determining that it was not fitting to sacrifice a human, willing or not. (The Book of Judges is all about people doing “what seemed right in their eyes,” and mostly doing sinful things because of it.) God doesn’t want us to be stubborn and keep bad vows, or abet others in toxic pigheadedness. So if God says through Gabriel that Mary’s vow is good, and that her parents and Joseph letting her keep it was good, that means that Mary as antitype improves on Jephthah’s daughter as type. She offered herself up in a fitting way, which is part of why it was fitting for God to take her up on it, and offer her an even more important depth of offering.

(There’s also a minority interpretation that Jephthah’s daughter remained alive and was sent to serve God at the Tabernacle, having been vowed a virgin by her dad instead of by herself. Which would also be relevant to Mary.)

Either way, Mary is obedient and responsive to God… but she’s also got that dark Jewish sense of humor. Obediently snarky.

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The Magnificat Says Mary Knew

I’ve been studying the Greek 101 course on The Great Courses, off and on. (Not very diligently. Basically, whenever I’ve got enough brainpower.)

Not long after the bit where you realize you can understand the first five lines of the Iliad, the second episode about dactylic hexameter includes a portion of Luke’s Gospel, where Gabriel speaks to the Virgin Mary. And yesterday, thinking about it, I noticed something that connects to the Magnificat.

St. Gabriel says about the son that Mary is being asked to bear, “He will be great.” (Literally, “Houtos estai megas,” He will be big/great/important.)

Some people say that Mary couldn’t have known Who her son was. But St. Elizabeth knew right away. The Spirit of the Lord came upon her, and she cried out in a loud voice (“krauge megale“) that Mary was “the mother of my Lord.”

Well, obviously the Holy Spirit had done a lot more quality time with Mary, by overshadowing her, and God Himself was right there inside! Prophecy might occur!

So what does Mary say about her unborn son?

Megalynei he psyche mou ton Kyrion.” (Literally, My soul makes the Lord big, or My soul displays/proclaims that the Lord is big. “Megalynei” has the extended sense of “extols.”)

Mary is clearly alluding to her promised son being the Lord Himself! And then she underlines it, saying as a pregnant woman:

“Hoti epoiesen moi megala ho Dynatos.” (The Mighty One has done big things to/at me.) Like in her womb. Getting big.

But wait, there’s more! In Luke 1:58, after Mary had gone home and Elizabeth had given birth, the neighbors and relatives of Elizabeth heard that: “…hoti emegalynen Kyrios to eleos autou met autes, kai synechairon aute.” (“….that the Lord was magnifying His Mercy with her, and they rejoiced with her.” And notice Gabriel’s greeting being echoed with “chaire.”) So literally, the double meaning was that the Lord had been staying at her house, working on getting big!

Probably this is old news to a lot of you, but I’ve never heard it pointed out before. (And this allusion pattern is probably why some scholars are super-anxious to deny Mary’s composition of the Magnificat — because it shows that she understood what was going on, and was a Bible-contemplating poet as well as a prophetess.)

It would make sense for Luke to back up Mary’s allusions with at least one of his own, because that would show his audience that he also understood what was going on. It also rounds out the story, by alluding to elements of the Annunciation at the announcement of John the Baptist’s birth and name.

This will probably be a better-sounding Marian argument if you say “great” instead of “big.”

UPDATE: The Greek word “megas” is used in the Septuagint to translate Hebrew “gadol,” great (or big!). The Greek word “dynatos” is used to translate Hebrew “gibbor,” which can mean “mighty,” “the Mighty One” (as in Zephaniah 3:17), or “warrior.”

SECOND UPDATE: The sacred extension of the “extols” meaning is “make the Lord’s Name big, by letting other people know His deeds and power.” And it shows up a lot.

Megalynei references at Bill Mounce’s website.

Acts 10:46 — “For they were hearing them speaking in tongues, and exalting [megalynonton] God.”

Acts 19:17 — “And the Name of the Lord Jesus was exalted [emegalyneto].”

Phil. 1:20 — “Christ will be exalted [megalynthesetai] in my body, whether by life or by death.” (See, being Christian does imply identifying with Mary….)

The word also shows up in the Septuagint. One of the most important ones is in Sirach 43:35 — ‘Who shall see [God] and describe Him as He is? Who shall magnify [megalynei] Him as He is, from the beginning?’

Well, apparently Mary will see God, and will magnify Him. So there’s an answer to Ben Sira’s question, heh….

Another super-important LXX reference is 2 Sam. 7:18-29. Mary’s Magnificat refers a ton to the prayer of Samuel’s mother, Hannah; and legend identified her own previously barren mom, Anna/Hannah, as also identifying strongly with Hannah. But Mary was of the House of David, so it’s not surprising that she would also identify strongly with David, since her entire situation was a fulfillment of what the Lord had promised David through the prophet Nathan — that God would be father to the Son of David, that David’s House and kingdom would endure forever, and his throne would endure forever. So Mary refers to David’s thankful response to God, and Elizabeth also calls back to this speech (although obviously 2 Sam. 6:9 and Hannah’s song even more). David calls himself the Lord’s servantman [“doulo” – Hebrew “ebed”] and Mary calls herself His servantwoman or handmaid [“doula”], so the parallel is strong. (And obviously this is the usual OT way to talk directly to God, so it’s not surprising.)

“And David went in, and sat before the Lord, and said, “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that You have brought me thus far? But yet this has seemed little in Your sight, O Lord God… For Your Word’s sake, and according to Your own heart You have done all these great things [megalosynen], so that You would make it known to Your servant. Therefore You are magnified [megalynai], O Lord God, because there is none like to You. 

“And what nation is there upon earth like Your people Israel, whom God went to redeem for a people to himself… and to do for them great things [megalosynen] and awe-inspiring things upon the earth, before the face of Your people…

“And now, O Lord God, raise up for ever the Word that You have spoken concerning Your servant and concerning his house: and do as You have spoken, so that Your Name may be magnified [megalytheie] for ever… Because You, O Lord of hosts, O God of Israel, have revealed this to the ear of Your servant, saying, ‘I will build You a house.’ Therefore Your servant has found it in his heart to pray this prayer to You. 

“And now, O Lord God, You are God, and Your words shall be true, for You have spoken these good things to Your servant… and with Your blessing let Your servant’s House be blessed for ever.”

(Oh, and btw, the Hebrew for “great things” in this passage is “hagedullah,” from “gadol,” and “be magnified” is “weyigdal,” also from “gadol.”)

I love finding all these deep things, just sitting there in plain sight. I guess people think more about Hannah’s Song and the Magnificat because it’s apt for a woman, but there’s a ton of stuff pointing out that David’s response is sort of a bookend to Hannah’s Song. So why wouldn’t Mary refer to them both?

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Mattel, Say “Catholic.”

Just say it, Mattel. Say it. It’s not hard. CAAAAATH-LIC.

“Barbie® celebrates Dia De Muertos 2020 with a second collectible doll inspired by the time-honored holiday. Dia De Muertos is a two-day holiday in early November when families gather to celebrate the lives of their departed loved ones. This colorful and lively event is filled with music, food, sweets, offerings and flowers. The Barbie® Dia De Muertos series honors the traditions, symbols and rituals often seen throughout this time.”

So yeah, let’s totally avoid the words “Catholic” and “Mexican.” Let’s avoid the fact that it’s a religious holiday. And why do you think it’s only about “ancestors,” and not about all the dead, and especially the Poor Souls who have nobody to pray for them? And what exactly do you mean by “offerings,” Mattel? And what are the two days of the “two-day” holiday, Mattel? Why would you say “early November” and not give the dates????

Ugh, ugh, ugh. Two steps forward, two steps back.

It’s not about going to cemeteries to “celebrate the lives” of the beloved dead, although that happens. It’s about praying for the souls of the dead, and asking them to pray for us from Purgatory and Heaven. It’s about remembering that dead Christians are still part of the Communion of Saints, and hence present with us as a “cloud of witness” — which is why people have cemetery picnics and put up temporary prayer station. It’s about making reparation for the sins of those who died repentant but were sent to Purgatory to purify them for bliss in God’s presence, and for praying for the unbaptized or pagan dead to be under Christ’s mercy, also.

And of course it’s not just a Mexican holiday, although Mexico got the full benefit of the traditions of all the Hapsburg monarchs’ domains in Spain, Germany, and the Netherlands, all the way to eastern Europe and the Far Eastern missions, courtesy of many religious orders and settlers. Everywhere there are Catholics and decent weather on November 2, it’s a big deal.

And no, dressing up candy skulls and such are not a pagan Mexican thing, sorry. It’s a danse macabre, memento mori thing from medieval Europe. It got big in the 1400’s and stuck around through the 1600’s, but hung on in places like Spain and Italy up until the present, and it got to Mexico by way of the Spanish settlers. You don’t have to like the aesthetic, just like you don’t have to like hellfire and brimstone spirituality; but it’s Christian unless people are purposefully paganizing it.

If anything, it was meant to combat the Aztec spirituality where the gods were wearing people’s body parts, and the jaguar god idea where skulls and headhunts were used to enslave human souls, with the idea of honored relics and cheerful deathless skeleton pictures anticipating the full joy of blessed souls reunited with their resurrected glorified bodies.

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Forgotten Titles: Mary of the Pregnant Women, and Mary of the Slapped Face

I was browsing around some webpages about Old St. Peter’s in Rome, and found out that there used to be a big side altar, right next to the nave’s entrance doors, which was dedicated to S. Maria Praegnantium. (Handy if you were really big and needed to pray.)

The altar included an old picture of the Virgin Mary holding Barely Toddler Jesus. Mary has one arm curled protectively around her Son, Who is standing up and blessing the onlookers. With the other hand, she holds a gauze veil across His privates, while highlighting His bellybutton to prove that He was born of her. Otherwise, He’s a totally naked little boy, showing that He is true man as well as true God.

Today, there’s a whole chapel dedicated to her, under the name of the Madonna delle Partorienti (My Lady of the Women Giving Birth), and it’s in a place of honor. But here’s the catch: it’s downstairs in the crypt, under St. Peter’s. So maybe there’s an elevator now, but there didn’t use to be. For a shrine for pregnant women. (Facepalm. Men. Usually that’s not the problem, but here, it pretty clearly is.)

There’s also a chapel for another old medieval icon of Mary, which was also moved from Old St. Peter’s. S. Maria della Bocciata, or the Madonna della Bocciata (of the Slap, or of the Rejection) , was a wall fresco of Mary holding Baby Jesus, which was in the portico between the Ravenna Door and the Door of the Dead. Jesus is turned away from His mother and is blessing the onlooker below. But Mary has an odd-looking face, which some see as swollen, and her cheek has a dark spot that looks like a big bruise.

It’s a miraculous picture, because apparently it used to look normal, and it was painted in the 1200’s. It used to be called “S. Maria in columna,” Mary on the pillar. (Probably a picture of the Spanish apparition of Mary, “Our Lady of the Pillar,” which has Baby Jesus sit-standing against Mary’s shoulder. Her feast day is October 12, which is also Columbus Day from Columbus’ first landing in the Americas. Columba, Columna. Horrible pun.)

But one day in 1440, a drunken soldier, who had just lost a game of bowls, had a tantrum and threw one of the little balls or rocks that they were using for the game, and hit Mary’s picture right in the face. Drops of blood fell from her painted cheek and stained the floor; and ever since then, the picture has borne the bruise damage as a rebuke to those who disrespect the Blessed Mother. (And I’m sure we remember the similar thing that happened to the icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa.)

So of course the picture was removed from the wall before the old basilica was demolished, and now it also has its own home, down in the crypt. The two bloodstained paving stones sit behind grates on either side of the picture, and you’re meant to reach through the grates and touch them.

Unfortunately, this is another shrine that used to be a lot easier to visit, back when it was in the portico! But in this case, people actually got more attached to “the Rejected Madonna” after it was moved several times during all the building and renovation. So you never know.

Here’s a PDF from the Knights of Columbus, who funded the restoration of various crypt chapels, including these two. There are nice photos of the two pictures.

Many fragments and reproductions of Old St. Peter’s stuff live in the crypts. On the right hand wall of the Rejected Madonna’s chapel is an old inscription from the “sacellum” or “oratory” of the saints, which was created by Pope St. Gregory III, and dedicated at the opening of an anti-iconoclast synod in Rome on November 1, 731. To make his point stronger, the pope changed the Roman date of All Saints’ Day from May 13th to November 1, thus creating Halloween.

So the first Halloween decoration ever is sitting under St. Peter’s, in the Chapel of the Madonna della Bocciata!! Being all holy and historical and stuff!*

A webpage for the Chapel of the Madonna della Bocciata. Includes some nice big pictures. The remains of Cardinal Peran are back in his country now.

A webpage for the Chapel of the Madonna delle Partorienti.

Today is Mary’s birthday (September 8, feast of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary). The eve of the feast was associated by St. Brigid of Sweden with a devotion to St. Anne and the Virgin Mary, praying for pregnant women by starting a simple novena of nine Hail Marys a day, or even nine Hail Marys per month of pregnancy (which she received in an vision from Mary). St. Anna Maria Emmerich received a similar vision, where Mary asked pregnant women to say nine Hail Marys at noon on September 8, and then to continue saying nine at noon for nine days.

(But any time during the day is fine – it’s noon somewhere. Noon was associated with saying the Angelus and hearing the Angelus bells ring, so Mary was trying to make it easy.)

*There are two known inscriptions. One is all about the guys who witnessed the synod and the pope being happy to praise the Lord (which is the one in the chapel), and the other is all “anathema” and “interdict” to violators of the synod’s teaching. Which would be Emperor Leo III.

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“The Emperor Constantine” by Dorothy L. Sayers

It turns out that Dorothy L. Sayers wrote a _lot_ of cathedral and radio plays, but that only some of them were available in print in the US – until recently. Wipf and Stock put out a series of reprints earlier this decade. You can get them on paper for about $20, or as Google Play ebooks for about $5 less.

The Emperor Constantine is a pretty fun play that was written for the (Anglican) Colchester Cathedral folks. Using the old legend that Constantine was the grandson of Coel Hen (Old King Cole of Colchester through his daughter Helena), Sayers created a hometown proprietary interest in Constantine and the exciting events of his reign, as well as his successes and failures at being a good emperor and a good Christian man.

One of the important features of the play is a “courtroom battle” at the Council of Nicaea, using what we know about the speeches given at the Council by Arius (in defense of his novel system of Arianism) and Athanasius (speaking for orthodoxy and his elderly bishop, Alexander).

Which brings us to the old Big Finish audio play, Doctor Who: The Council of Nicaea, by Caroline Symcox. Symcox is married to BBC writer Paul Cornell, and she’s also an Anglican curate. Supposedly she put a lot of study into this audio drama, but it is riddled with inaccuracies and/or outright lies.

The entire plot of her story is that Erimem, a pagan ancient Egyptian queen traveling with the Doctor, is determined to get Arius a chance to speak at the Council of Nicaea. (When actually, Arius was practically the first guy to speak! It was Athanasius who had to get special permission to speak for his bishop, because he was considered too young to formally participate in the Council.)

Arius was 60, and Athanasius wasn’t even 30 yet. Of course, the audio play portrays Arius as being younger than Athanasius, and Athanasius as being an old stick in the mud. It just boggles the mind. There’s also a lot of confusion of the way various eras of Egyptian monks acted. And so much stupid.

Symcox also insists through several characters that there is not much importance to the question of whether Jesus Christ was God Almighty from all eternity, or just a sort of hemi-demi-semi god. The whole Council of Nicaea is silly; everybody just wants to oppress free thought and Arius; and Christianity is mean to women. (Remember that she is an Anglican curate in the UK. She gets paid by her government to teach Christianity.) It’s slightly more subtle than that, but not much.

And yet, Symcox had a good feminist example before her, in the form of Sayers’ play. Sayers is a giant part of Anglican and English literary culture, as well as BBC history. I can’t imagine that Symcox was totally ignorant of Sayers’ play. If she was, why was she?

It’s amazing how many layers of goodness and fun, as well as deep thought and interesting characters, can be found in Sayers’ play — even though it’s just a minor work in her portfolio.

And it’s just as amazing how many layers of stupidity and malice can be found in stuff written by SJWs, purely for SJW reasons.

(And yet, believe it or not, they have a whole series of Erimem novels in the UK now, just as they have a whole series of novels about the execrable Bernice Summerfield. Blehhhhhhhh.)

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The Real Reason Halloween is on October 31

Muslims, of course. And iconoclast emperors.

Okay, let’s recap the status of All Saints’ feasts.

Back in the day, the celebration of all the martyrs not otherwise celebrated, or all the saints not otherwise celebrated, usually took place in the spring. In Edessa, it was on May 13, from AD 320 on. In Lebanon and Syria, you have celebrations in Lent, or on the first Thursday after Easter from 411 on, a celebration of all martyrs. In Antioch (from the days of Ss. Ephrem and John Chrysostom) and in Wurzburg, All Saints (ton Hagion Panton) was the first Sunday after Pentecost. In the West, it was on April 20.

When the Pantheon in Rome was turned into the Church of Sancta Maria ad Martyres in 609, the building was dedicated on May 13, and Rome began celebrating All Saints’ Day on May 13. There was some spread of the new date, but it was all voluntary changes. Rome did not push it on other areas. Ireland, for one, still celebrated on April 20. But it was a big feast, and Pope Sergius I wrote a long litany in Greek for it in AD 690.

And then, in 731 in Rome, the date changed again.

It was a sad time in Church history. Emperor Leo III, Leo the Isaurian, was a skilled general and governor from Syria, who had overthrown Theodosius III with the help of other military officials. His strong governance had brought peace to the Empire and driven back the Bulgars and Muslims. But he had also brought in forcible Baptism of Jews and Montanists, and then decided that he could smoothe things over with the Muslims (or Arian proto-Muslims, or whatever was going on in the Middle East) by scrubbing Christianity of images and saints. He declared icons illegal in a series of laws that came out from 726-729. Much of the aristocracy supported him, but most theologians, monks, and normal laypeople hated it.

Over in the West, people just ignored Emperor Leo’s dumb edicts. In the East, people who defied the new laws got punished — or they got the heck out, moving to places like Rome with less economy and more freedom. Ironically, one of the strongest voices against Emperor Leo was St. John of Damascus — who lived in Damascus and other places in the Muslim caliphate, and thus could not get silenced by Emperor Leo.

Emperor Leo III also had a feud going with Pope Gregory II. In 722 (the year of the forced  baptisms), the Emperor demanded more tax money and tax food from Rome and the papal estates, because there were war expenses. But Rome was having trouble feeding its own people, and had no surplus money or food to send. The imperial governor of Rome got insistent, so the Roman populace threw the rascal out. (And the Pope didn’t object or anything.) Since imperial forces in Ravenna were busy holding off the Lombards/Longobards, and since Emperor Leo was too busy to send troops from elsewhere, the Romans got away with it.

In 725, Emperor Leo sent a new guy, Marinus, to be Dux of his Roman lands. Things might have smoothed over, but Marinus made a serious attempt to put a hit on the Pope. He got recalled, another guy was made Exarch of Ravenna, and the assassination plot continued. It got discovered, the plotters talked, and nobody in Rome loved Constantinople.

Then the iconoclasm laws came along. The East says that Gregory II excommunicated the Emperor. The West says that he sent some strongly worded letters telling the Emperor to butt out of religious matters, and that iconoclasm was evil and stupid. Emperor Leo sent a new Exarch, who started a new plot to kill the Pope and the major notables of Rome. This plot got discovered, too. The Exarch then made a deal with the Lombards to attack Rome as a joint force, but the Pope managed to get the Lombards to change their minds. Gregory stayed openly courteous to Exarch Eutychius, and helped him fight off a non-religious revolt. Eutychius was grateful, and things were looking up.

Then Pope Gregory II died on February 11, 731. He was later declared a saint; his feastday is on February 13.

Since he was such a saintly guy and had led the fight against iconoclasm, a lot of people showed up for Gregory II’s funeral. One of them was a Syrian priest, Gregory son of John. He seems to have been something of a scholar and a holy type of guy, but he must have really made an impression.

Because on February 22, 731, this visitor to Rome got elected Pope. By acclamation of the people of Rome.

He was so flabbergasted that he followed an old custom, and asked permission from the Exarch of Ravenna. (Because he was from the East, where bishop was more of a government bureaucratic position.) It was granted, and he was consecrated bishop and Pope on March 18. (No telling what his old bishop thought about it.) He was the last pope until Pope Francis to have origins outside of Europe.

Pope Gregory III started things off with a bang, by sending nice letters to the exiled/deposed Patriarch of Constantinople, and nastygrams about iconoclasm to Emperor Leo III. The emperor put the pope’s messenger in prison.

Pope Gregory III doubled down. He put up a full ikonostasis at the base of the two-story main altar structure of the old St. Peter’s Basilica. He called a synod against iconoclasm and for devotion to Mary and the saints, to be held in November 731. And he also ordered a new oratory to be built in the main nave, all the way down front, and just to the left of the doors going to the main altar. The oratory featured two altars (one honoring Mary, the other St. Gabinius) with a big arch covering them, and a consolidation of saints’ bodies and relics (many removed from dilapidated or abandoned old churches), which were reburied under the oratory floor and the altars. Gregory also installed more images, of course!

On November 1, 731, just before the start of the synod against iconoclasm, the new oratory was dedicated. Pope Gregory III announced that from now on, the feast of All Saints in Rome would be celebrated on November 1. (Which of course made the eve of the feast a time for fasting, prayer vigils, and whatever stuff you do to stay awake during fasting and prayer vigils.)

Emperor Leo III sent a fleet to punish Rome, but it was wrecked.

The new date of the feast was still promulgated by free choice; but a lot of kings and missionaries were interested in it because it was a blow against iconoclasm. (And overbearing Byzantine emperors.) Ireland doesn’t seem to have picked up the new date for a long time.

Pope Gregory III reigned until his death on November 28, 741. (He and Emperor Leo III died in the same year.) He was buried in his oratory of Mary and the saints. Unlike Leo, Pope Gregory III was later declared a saint, and his day is December 10.

So there’s no Celtic pagan holiday. The reason we have Halloween is an emperor who was soft on Muslims and hard on icons, and a Pope who fought back.

Everything else is just decorations and candy.

* Other achievements by Pope St. Gregory III — Appointed St. Boniface the archbishop of Germany, and a papal legate, in order to support missionary work among German pagans and lapsed Christians. Founded and perpetually funded a hospital for the poor, dedicated to the Eastern Ss. Sergius and Bacchus. Founded a monastery in Rome named St. Chrysogonus. Restored Rome’s walls. Built, restored, re-roofed, and decorated many churches in Rome. Put a lead roof back on the Pantheon. Helped recapture Ravenna from the Lombards. He was a busy guy.

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Ever-Everything….

After Christmas Eve Mass, when all the young kids and parents had gone home, and only middle-aged people and college students were left chatting in the vestibule, it emerged that one young woman had never learned what it meant that our Blessed Mother is called “Ever-Virgin.”

Kiddies, this is your cue to click somewhere else on the Internet….

Ever-Virgin (“Aeiparthenos” in Greek) is an ancient title, and it means what it says. The Church has always believed, and always taught, that Mary was a virgin, physically and every other way, throughout her pregnancy, childbirth, and entire life. As a special sign from God, her hymen remained physically intact at all times. Most virgins have their hymens wither away in middle age or break by accident, at some point, if they do not break it by sex. This did not apply to Mary’s physical integrity. Since she was resurrected and carried off to Heaven bodily, she is still a physical virgin up in Heaven; and she will remain a physical virgin forever.

This is not a sign that God is obsessed with virginity, or hates women having sex. Obviously not… God invented sexual reproduction, and created humans to reproduce that way. If he wanted us to be totally asexual, we’d be budding things off or splitting in two like amoebas.

Mary is ever-virgin for several reasons. First, as a sign that Jesus Christ is the son of God and the son of a human woman, not a normal human being born to two normal human beings. He is true God and true man, and Mary’s continued virginity shows this strange and wonderful situation.

Second, we are told that in Heaven there is no marriage or giving in marriage. The same is true of eternal life after the general resurrection and Judgment. We will all be in a mystical union with God and each other, which will fulfill our emotional needs; and reproduction and sex will no longer be needed, because we will be immortal. Just as celibate priests and religious are supposed to live without sex as signs of this life to come, the same is true of Mary in her life.

There are other reasons and Biblical prophecies involved, but I won’t mention these right now. I’ll pass on towards what seems to be the crux of the problem with Mary, for a lot of modern women….

Mary is also the New Eve, the new mother of all the living, and the second person in the Bible with the honorable title “Woman.” She is not only an ever-virgin woman, but forever the “bride unwedded,” ever-Ark of the Covenant, ever-mother to Jesus and His mystical Body of believers. She has lived the life of a wife and a widow in a difficult time, and her hands were busy with weaving and work as the ever-Valiant Woman. But now she works in heaven as the ever-queen mother to the Son of David. All generations will call her blest.

But on the other side, remember that she was also the ever-insulted and ever-whispered about. Without having any of the fun, she must have suffered rumors and nastiness all her life. Even now, she gets to hear this crud; and it hurts and disappoints her, because she loves all of us. But she went through it all without sinning — somehow. With God’s help and grace.

Mary is the subject of some awfully strange ideas. Some people are threatened by the way God chose her to represent the troubles of all women: young and old, maidens and mommies, sinners and saints. We ladies have a tendency to try to keep up with the Mrs. Joneses, and we are unlikely to be able to keep up with Mary. She is the ultimate multitasker; and unlike Mary Poppins, she really is practically perfect in almost every way!

But everything Mary did, she did out of weakness and normalness. She was not a goddess. She was a human woman, although specially graced by not having to deal with original sin. But Eve had that. Mary only stayed sinless by trusting God, and asking Him for help when she was troubled. Since she was a human, that probably was all the time.

And yes, later on, God lived in her house and was her kid, but that would probably make it harder not to kick against God’s ways!

The other side is that other people think Mary was useless and not worth any notice, and should get no credit for anything she did. Clearly this is not so. Mary was not a doormat; she was a smart and independent woman. She thought and pondered; she made mistakes even without sinning. She was no puppet, or a mere container sitting on the shelf. When she thought she should do something, she moved fast.

So the moral of the story of Mary, especially for women, is that we need God every day, in every way, if we want to do all the things we need to do and be all the things we have to become.

But the other moral is that although we are weak and imperfect, God wants to give us graces and strengths. He wants to see us grow and become great ladies. He is on our side; and He will be our help always, if we let Him.

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Burying the Lead: Blessed Laura Vicuña

Laura Vicuña was a Peruvian-Argentinean girl who lived a saintly life and died in a heroically edifying way. The Salesian Brothers and Sisters in Argentina supported her cause for sainthood, and she was named a Venerable back in the early 1900’s, eventually being beatified by Pope John Paul II in the 1980’s.

Here’s the problem. Laura lived a difficult life because her desperately poor widowed mother became the live-in girlfriend of a ranch owner, who then started to go after Laura as she got older. (She died at the age of 13, though, and the guy had been going after her for over six years. So obviously he was a sick puppy, and it’s not clear if he went after her younger sister, Julia, also.)

The ranch owner was also a violent man, when he was drunk and when he wasn’t. He beat up the mother, and he beat up Laura when she refused him. Finally, Laura’s mom fled with her two kids to another town, but the abuser followed, demanding to rape Laura. Laura tried to draw him off or prevent her mom from letting him in, by leaving the place they were staying by another door. Instead she received a crazy beating from the man in the middle of the street, in the middle of town. He almost rode off with her unconscious body, but townspeople intervened before he could. He finished his work by throwing her down in the middle of the street. Laura recovered consciousness, but died of her injuries, after making her mom promise not to go back to him and then forgiving her killer.

All this was covered up in the normal outlines of her life. They said that she had tuberculosis (which she did), and that she had offered God her life to get her mom and sister out of the bad situation (which she did). But they said that it was the tuberculosis that killed her, as opposed to her internal bleeding and injuries. And they said that the bad situation was her mom living an immoral life, not the whole family being subject to a crazy abusive would-be rapist.

(It’s a little weird, because the normal story about St. Maria Goretti, from about the same time, is perfectly clear about the man having rape and murder as his intentions.)

A minor point is that the normal story still emphasizes that Laura was a friend to everybody in school, loved by the teachers, and a leader in sports. Apparently the real story is that Laura worked hard, was devout, helped everyone, was a favorite with the teachers for her good qualities — and was absolutely despised by every other girl in school, except for her one best friend. She was poor, she was stubborn, she had normal looks, and she was showing everybody else up.

Here’s another point. Laura’s mom, Mercedes Pino, was treated pretty poorly by life. Her husband Domenico Vicuña came from a rich family, while hers was poor or middle class. When they married against his family’s wishes and he was disowned by his family, her family also disowned her. She kept the family going for six years after her family died, living an honest life as a dressmaker and hatmaker. But in 1899, thieves broke into her store and cleared out the whole inventory, plus the store appliances. Seeking a new start, she took her girls into the frontier lands of Argentina, where there was supposed to be plenty of opportunity. She was willing to work hard as a maid and cook. So nobody knows why she agreed to become Manuel Mora’s mistress as well as his housekeeper.

Like Mercedes’ dead husband, Manuel Mora came from a good family. Unlike her husband, he had a long list of prior convictions, and wasn’t shy about shooting or stabbing people. Thanks to his family’s influence, he got a good grant of cattle land along the frontier. To give him credit, he was good at running estancias and raising cattle, and he dressed well. However, he was known to treat his hands like slaves, the local natives like worse than slaves, and was in the habit of whipping anyone who displeased him. He was then in need of a mistress, because he had branded his previous one like a cow and then driven her off the ranch.

Apparently he was very charming to Mercedes in the beginning, and implied that he was planning to marry her. But that was all just lies. He did initially pay the kids’ tuition for boarding school, but eventually he refused to pay more because he wanted easy access to Laura. (To their credit, the sisters then awarded Laura and Julia scholarships.)

One sad point is this: Laura didn’t understand what was going on with her mom and the abuser until she was ten, and one of the sisters taught about marriage as a Sacrament. The poor kid fainted dead away, right in the middle of class. (No doubt some of her classmates had been hinting stuff that she hadn’t understood.) It’s just as well, though, because the abuser made his first move on her after the end of that school year, in 1902.

That wasn’t the end of her troubles, either. She wanted to join an order, both for religious reasons and to get out of the bad home situation. (Which would also have lightened the financial load on her mom and sister, although obviously her sister would have been up next for unwanted attention from the abuser.) But she was refused admission to the order of Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, not just because of her age (the standard outline’s explanation), but because her mother was living an irregular life, and they feared giving scandal. Yes, crappy things happen to the holy.

Piecing together her story from different English sources is not only difficult, but pretty horrifying. Obviously you can’t teach everything to kids, but come on, people!

Blessed Laura Vicuña has been named a patron saint of abuse victims.

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St. Eusebius of Emesa on Gospel Sources

St. Eusebius of Emesa was born about AD 300 and died around AD 360. He was a student of St. Eusebius of Caesarea, the church historian and Gospel commentary writer, but he also studied and taught in Antioch. His Homiliae in Evangelia was originally written in Greek, but we don’t have that original; we have the Latin. Some of his stuff also survives in Armenian. We have a few bits and pieces of him in Greek.

He seems to have been a very devout Christian, but his flock in Emesa (famed for its sun/mountain god, Heliogabalus, which was worshipped in the form of a black rock) distrusted his interest in astrology and threw him out of town for a while. He wrote many commentaries on Scripture, and was known to be pretty darned Trinitarian for a friend of so many Semi-Arians. An interesting character, all around.

Here’s a translation from the Latin version of Homiliae in Evangelia, “In Natale Domini, in Aurora” (Christmas at dawn):

And then it is added: “And Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart.” (Lk. 2:19)

O most wise mother, and most worthy alone of such a son! She who “kept all these words… in her heart” for that reason, and “kept” them for us, and committed them to memory, so that they could be written down according to her instruction, her narration, and her recital; and could be published and preached throughout the whole world and in all the nations! For the Apostles heard these things from her, and they wrote down what she dictated, and it was committed to us to read.

Why, therefore, would one not believe the Gospels?

Who would presume to contradict them, when they are fortified by the authority of both mother and Son?

For the Apostles and the Evangelists heard certain things from the Lord’s mother, just as they have written these things and the rest, about the childhood of Our Savior. Indeed, they had gotten to learn many things from seeing and hearing the Lord Himself.

We should also take an example from the Lord’s mother, and we should faithfully keep the things they have reported about Our Savior in our hearts, and be careful to commit them to memory.

For it is written about those who hear “the word” of God and do not commit it to memory, that the devil “comes and takes away” the word that was sown in their hearts, lest they be saved. (Mt. 13:19)

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Lack of Belief in Infallible Scripture Implies a Fallible, Limited God

There are different ways to define the infallibility of Holy Scripture, and there are different ways of defining what the Bible contains.

But the basic idea is the same for both Jews and Christians; the Bible is important because it is God’s trustworthy revelation to us.

Given this premise, one would think that people would be a bit more careful about what they infer from the Bible, or how careless they are about ignoring it.

For example….

“The pericope of the adultress” is obviously a story about the Jesus we know and love. A lot of people think it’s obviously by Luke, and there is some verbal evidence of this. All the same, a lot of modern people are willing to ditch this famous bit because it’s not in Luke; and some even claim that it isn’t and never was inspired Scripture, even though it was used in the Church as a reading from earliest times.

Well, obviously if Jesus is God, and if God is omnipotent and omniscient, Jesus Christ is quite capable of looking out for His own reputation, and protecting His Bible from unwanted, un-inspired incursions.

And yet, there’s the adulteress’ story, large as life and twice as famous.

So either Jesus Christ is God, and approves, and inspired that part too… or Jesus Christ is not God, and it doesn’t really matter except to manuscript scholars.

And in fact, there is no indication in OT or NT that only the original author of a book is capable of being inspired, and that scribes and editors cannot be inspired. The Psalms had multiple authors, and they’re inspired.

So yes, it is annoying when a Bible translation takes it upon itself to remove verses. God is a big God, and He is quite capable of handling His own books. It’s even more annoying when Christians actually swallow this idiocy.

Another example is Margaret Barker’s work. Her idea is that real Judaism involved Yahweh and a female god (yeah, “El” is not a female name, but let’s pass that over), and that it was cruelly destroyed by King Josiah when he cleaned all the idol-crud out of the Temple. The Bible was then corrupted and changed to remove all evidence of this divine spouse thing, except for little bits that only Barker has been smart enough to uncover and understand. Also there was a Jewish version of the “trail of blood” connecting these female El-worshippers to early Christianity, and yet the only trace of them is the stuff in the NT about Mary and Holy Church.

Well, if that’s true, then who cares if the Bible was “corrupted”? Obviously this female El must be the worst god ever at protecting her reputation and her worshippers. She is a pathetic weakling, and the only prophet she has dug up in the last 3000 years is an English academic. Sad.

But there are two other possibilities. 1) She was always an imaginary being that got globbed into real Judaism, and she obviously didn’t belong in a true book about the relationship between Israel and the true, omnipotent, omniscient God. 2) She is an imaginary being invented by an English academic, and globbed onto real historical Middle Eastern paganism and syncretism.

The last explanation seems the most likely.

Obviously, the infallibility of the Bible isn’t something perceived as relevant by non-Christians, and it shouldn’t be dragged into academic discussions. But any Jewish or Christian believer should keep this in mind, as an easy crap detector.

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Be Kind: Everyone Is Fighting a Great Battle

A few years back, I ran into a blog called Fencing Bear at Prayer. It was written by a medievalist who liked Mary, so of course I was interested. But the farther back I got into her blog, the more I got the impression that she liked Mary in a neopagan way. So I posted some argumentative stuff about it in the comments and on here somewhere, and went on.

Well, I was wrong about her. So I hope the lady didn’t take my comments to heart.

She was doing the conversion thing and was very new to starting it, so I should have been a lot gentler. And more, she was just at the beginning of fighting a great Internet battle.

Milo Yiannopoulos took an interest in this lady and helped her in her conversion to Catholicism. Yup, the original Peck’s Bad Boy had an eye for the slightly puzzled-looking lost sheep… and I didn’t. That is a prodigious failure on my part.

Yiannopoulos has written a big fat essay, fully researched and linked, about the online mobbing that has been suffered by this kindly lady professor for the last three years, from members of her own field, and why medieval studies is being attacked as a discipline. He calls it “Middle Rages: Why the Battle for Medieval Studies Matters to America,” and it is worth reading the whole thing.

And then, one of the mob leaders threatened to sue the university where the professor works… over the article that had nothing to do with the university… and before the article even came out.

OTOH, the essay also exposes the way a lot of nasty people on the Internet are happy to speak with forked tongue — writing gentle prose to one group of “friends” on the same day they are whipping up hatemobs against their “friends” in another closed group. No wonder such people like to employ sock puppets; it’s just an extension of their usual methods.

In other news, the Fencing Bear at Prayer has a second book out. Mary and the Art of Prayer, by Rachel Fulton Brown is a tad bit pricey, but where else are you going to get this kind of research and all these great sources? It takes the subject of prayer seriously, instead of treating it as some mysterious obscure practice done only in the dark of the moon in lemur holes, by aliens with five heads. But it is also a history of ideas book, which I love. Prayer has its tides that go in and out, and this is a book about older ways to think about prayer.

And it’s about Mary, who is a great person to get to know. Why do Catholics insist on praying with her and chatting to her? It’s hard for us to explain, because it’s like fish doing dissertations on water. Rachel Fulton Brown is the new fish on the reef, so she can still talk about it instead of just breathing it!

Mostly, though, we need to pray for Rachel Fulton Brown, aka Fencing Bear at Prayer. Because she is still fighting a great battle.

O Blessed Virgin Mary,
Queen to angels and men,
Hypermachos Strategos (Great General) of the hosts of Heaven,
please continue to pray for your fencer and her champions.
O beautiful as an army set for battle,
send your subject St. Michael to give them aid and counsel!

O Queen of poets and prophets,
As you spoke your mind freely to your Son and to angels,
teach us to speak boldly and with honesty —
even if it makes us seem foolish before the world,
and even if the world hates us for it —
for we are body parts of your Son, and cannot expect better than He got.
Help us learn to make suffering a path to heaven; and help us not despair.

We ask this in Christ Our Lord, Amen.

* I still think some of the modern academics that Fulton Brown was using as sources are whacked out beyond wacky. But the main ones are useful-wacky, and worth picking through and yelling at. I later saw a lot of super-orthodox folks referencing the same whackdoodles, and some of them trained under the same people! Theology and Bible studies can get pretty offbeat.

Also, it’s well-known that a prof can make really good points and really stupid points in the same book or article, so I shouldn’t have been surprised to find the same thing happening in theology history books. And to be fair, 90% of all new experiments and theories are bound to turn out to be wrong, if you are actually investigating anything new.

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Marian Shrines for Cyclists

Mary has a long relationship with athletes needing help, and many sports have favorite Marian shrines. Cyclists have Our Lady of Ghisallo, sometimes called Our Lady of the Bicycle, or Our Lady of Cyclists. It’s an old roadside shrine which stands along the route of the Giro di Lombardia. The small chapel was built by a medieval man who was saved from bandits by Mary’s protection.

Our Lady of Ghisallo’s image is a painting of Mary, with Christ as a baby or toddler seated on her knee; He blesses the onlooker while she bends toward him, nursing him. But there’s a common variation on prayer cards where Mary is not nursing Him, but lifting toddler Jesus onto a bicycle seat! Medals of Our Lady of Ghisallo or the “Madonna del Ghisallo” are pretty common, too.

Our Lady of Ghisallo’s patronage of cyclists was made official by Pope Pius XII in 1949. The relevant feasts are October 13 and November 2 (because a lot of people go there to pray for dead cyclists’ souls).

A post about the place with a nice picture, from a cycling blog. Did you know that Cadel Evans donated his Tour de France yellow jersey to the chapel? No, me neither.

Here’s a bigger article about the place, with some amazing pictures.

There’s also a Museum of Cycling on the grounds, basically to handle all the donations and ex votos that overflow from the chapel. Here’s a news story about it. And another.

Other bicycle shrines include Notre-Dame des Cyclistes in Labastide-d’Armagnac, in the Aquitaine in France; and Nuestra Señora de Dorleta in Leintz Gatzaga, Spain. (Also spelled Lentz and Leniz.)

Notre-Dame des Cyclistes is an old Templar chapel. Pretty cool. It was approved as the French national shrine for cyclists by Pope John XXIII, in 1959.

This blog article talks about Spanish cyclists’ devotion to Our Lady of the Assumption of Dorleta, as well as the shrine itself.

The post also includes a more generic Spanish devotional statue, Our Lady of Sports (Nuesta Señora de Deporte), aka the Virgin of Athletes (La Virgen de los Deportistas) which features Toddler Jesus standing on an Olympic podium, and Mary with a gold medal around her neck. I have to say, it makes me smile and cry.

“Do you not know that everyone runs in the race? Indeed, they all run, but one wins the prize. So run so that you can get it.

“And everyone who strives to win, stops doing anything else — and they do it for a crown that withers, but we for an incorruptible one!

“So I run, but not as one without a finish line, and I box, but not like one pounding the air. I drill my body, and bring it under control.” (1 Cor. 9:24-27)

“Forgetting what lies behind, and leaning forward toward what is before me, I head for the finish line, for the prize of the supernal vocation of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:13-14)

“And therefore, having so great a cloud of witnesses around us, let us lay aside every burden and throw off every sin prone to entangle us; and with endurance, let us run the race set before us.” (Hebr. 12:1)

The post also includes a prayer to Our Lady of Sports. Here’s part of it:

“Our Lady and Mother,
we place in your hands all the efforts made by all the world’s athletes,
so that we can win a ‘crown that withers.’

May our physical efforts be a part of our search for higher virtues,
that forge character and give dignity and meaning to our lives.

As disciples of Our Teacher, Jesus Christ,
life itself is a competition,
and a striving for goodness and holiness.

Intercede before Him for all of us.
May all our work, sacrifice, and worry
culminate for us and for our families
in being filled to the brim with His love, His joy, and His peace.

Amen.”

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