From the Rector: The Easter Message

Sermon for Easter, April 12, 2020
By The Rev. Dr. Steve Danzey
Good Samaritan Episcopal Church
 
John 20:1–18
 
You may or may not remember the television series The New Normal, which aired for one season back in 2012–13. The storyline follows a wealthy Los Angeles gay couple, Bryan and David, who want to have a baby. They meet Goldie Clemmons, a waitress and single mother, who decides to become their surrogate, and she and her 9-year-old daughter move in with Bryan and David, forming a family outside what is considered the “norm.” This show, much like the TV series, Modern Family, satirized and critiqued what our culture considered “normal.”
 
In case you haven’t noticed, in recent days the word “normal” has probably become the most overused word in our national and personal conversations. “When will things get back to normal?” We ask. Or, in light of the pandemic, “What is the new normal?”
 
Mostly, I’ve heard, and I’ve said it and longed for it myself, “When can we just get back to normal?” “When can things get back to the way they were before all of this COVID-19 pandemic?”
 
I wonder, however, if the events through which we are now living and the event we celebrate this day offer us the opportunity to envision something more than getting back to normal, perhaps a new normal that has the potential to make the world a better place—more in tune with God’s dream for the creation. But because of something in our human psyche, the impulse to return and stay with what is familiar, predictable is strong; especially for those of us who are control freaks, which I am not. I’m a “control enthusiast!”
 
In John’s version of the first Easter, Jesus has not been dead for more than a few hours and the disciples are trying to adjust to life without Jesus and gain some sense of control over their own destiny. Mary Magdalene, however, ignores the stay at home order and ventures out to find the tomb empty. She does what any one of us would do, attempts to find an explanation that is reasonable and what anybody with any sense would conclude:
 
“Someone has taken Jesus’ body away. I know it was in there, because I was here on Friday when Joseph and Nicodemus helped us bury the body. I know—the officials who wanted him dead have delivered yet another blow—they’ve stolen his body. What other explanation could there be?”
 
Then Mary tells Peter and presumably John, who race to the tomb to verify what Mary has told them. What happens next is almost comical. John believes—Scripture doesn’t even tell us what he believed, but it couldn’t have been earth shattering, because the final sentence in that part of the story tells as that they went back to their homes. What on earth did they do when they got home? Cook breakfast, surf the internet? I get the sense they were dealing with their grief, fear, and shattered dreams and just wanted to go home and return to some sense of normality, or at least a place where they felt in control.
 
Bless Mary’s heart, she is struggling and troubled because she senses that something is not quite right. While the men skulk back home to check the stock market reports, Mary bravely returns to the tomb. Was the cause of here weeping a mixture of grief over her loss and frustration with a system that would not only kill a good man but desecrate his body.
 
And then it happens. The old normal is shattered, and though there is a sense of continuity with what was before, something happens that changes everything. The gardener says her name. “How did he know my name?,” Mary wonders, and then the old normal is gone forever and the new normal has begun. “It’s the Teacher; it’s Jesus!” She does what any one of us would have done, and, oh, how we long to do it in these days of social distancing. She reaches out to wrap her arms around him.
 
“Don’t hold on to me,” Jesus says, “I’ve got people to see, things to do, and places to be, and so do you!” It’s okay to grieve the loss of what was, Mary, but now it’s time to let go and embrace the new normal—the Resurrection normal.”
 
What does this current crisis and Easter Day 2020 say to us who are grieving the loss of what was normal and wondering what the new normal might be? What about the old normal should we let go? What are the possibilities for transformation wrapped in the caccoon of our current crisis that will enable us, if we are open to them, to live more fully into God’s intention for the human race and all of creation?
 
The book of Acts, which we’ll hear in church for the next few weeks, sets forth distinction between a world that wants to back to normal, back to a world without Jesus, and this growing group of Jesus-followers who have tasted the new normal of Resurrection life and refuse to go back to the way things were before.
 
The political and religious powers of the day did everything in their power to go back to the old normal, which at its heart was the attempt to maintain their control of the economy, politics, and religion. The followers of Jesus, however, energized by the Spirit of the Risen Jesus, choose to live in the new normal—the Easter normal. They make bold decisions to be inclusive; they sacrifice their reputation and their very lives; they give generously so that everyone in the community shares in the abundance of God.
 
Sisters and brothers, there are things about life the way it was before this crisis that are worth grieving over. I grieve with high school and college seniors who won’t be able to finish out their senior year. I weep with families who cannot hold the hands of their dying loved ones. I mourn that we could not celebrate Holy Week and Easter gathered in one place as a community of faith.
 
But there are some things about the old normal over which I will not grieve if we choose to let them go.
 
I will not grieve if we choose to put in the past the growing disparity between the rich and the poor that has become the norm for this nation. I will not grieve if we choose to let go of a broken healthcare system, where people cannot get quick treatment and die because they do not have health insurance. I will not grieve if Christians in our nation choose to let go of our obsession with political power, prosperity and celebrity so that we cannot do what Jesus told us to do: love God wholeheartedly and love our neighbors as ourselves.
 
I do not want to go back to the old normal of politics as usual, the disparaging of people and minorities in the public forum, and the disregard for truth and justice that has become all too common. Please, let us not go back to the old normal of over-scheduling ourselves and our children to the point that we can barely find time to breathe. Let us not go back to the old normal of taking our relationships, our vocations, and our faith for granted. Let us grieve over some things that we have lost during this time in history, but let us, for God’s sake and our own, choose to let go of things we know are dividing us, degrading our humanity, killing us and reeking havoc on God’s creation.
 
Thanks be to God, there are signs all around us that cracks are appearing the edifice of the old normal.
 
Did you read the news reports that folks living in northern India can see the Himalayas again because of the drop in emissions? Wildlife is returning the the canals of Venice. We are learning the names of next door neighbors. I see the Easter normal at work right here in our own faith community—people checking on one another, offering help, giving generously, worshiping faithfully.
 
Families have the time to work on puzzles and play board games. We have time to read novels, and take long walks, and check to see if the widow up the street needs Kleenex or toilet paper. Folks are returning to faith, or at least open to deepening their spiritual life, and realizing that their relationship to God is actually an essential part of their well-being.
 
Alan Lightman, a physicist who teaches at MIT, wrote in The Atlantic last week:
 
…there is something more to be regained [in this crisis], something more subtle, more delicate, almost impossible even to name. That is the restoration of our inner selves. By inner self, I mean that part of me that imagines, that dreams, that explores, that is constantly questioning who I am and what is important to me. My inner self is my true freedom. My inner self roots me to me, and to the ground beneath me. …perhaps the slower lifestyle in these months can help put the pieces [of our broken selves] back together. And perhaps a more contemplative, deliberate way of living can become permanent.
(“The Virus Is A Reminder of Something We Lost Long Ago,” The Atlantic, April 1, 2020)
 
The late poet John O’Donohue writes:
 
“You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.
Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.
Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.
Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.
Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.”
(Excerpt from the blessing, ‘For One Who is Exhausted’ from To Bless The Space Between Us)
 
That Easter falls right smack dab in the middle of this pandemic is worth pondering. If God can bring new life and new creation out of the death, disappointment, and disaster of the Passion Week of Jesus, what might happen if we choose to live in the new normal that is possible on the other side or our own Passion experience? What new thing might God be up to? What new and wonderful things could be birthed in our own lives, our families, our church, our nation?
 
I love how the Easter story ends. Mary runs back to where the disciples are hunkered down in their old normal. The text tells us she announces, she declares “I have seen the Lord!” She is the first apostle of the new normal—Easter, Resurrection normal.
 
The good news of this particular Easter Day is that even in our grieving and weeping God is with us, not chiding us because of our tears but calling us—each one of us, by name—to see through our tears the vision of a new normal that started 2000 years ago in a garden on the outskirts of Jerusalem. And not just to see it, but to embrace it and let it take root in our hearts so that we, too, like Mary, can shout to the world this day: “I have seen the Lord!”
 
Alleluia, Christ is risen. The Lord is risen, indeed. Alleluia!

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From the Rector: God’s Love Is Constant

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

This has been a roller-coaster week, hasn’t it? At first, we saw measures and changes to our daily lives introduced on a daily basis. Now it seems that the response and reaction to the spread of COVID-19 occurs almost hourly. While our lives have been disrupted, and many of us feel as though they’ve been turned upside down, there are a number of things that are constant, things to which we can anchor our lives during these unpredictable times.

God’s love for us is constant and never-changing. God’s love for us expressed in Jesus does not fluctuate like the stock markets; it is consistently given to us with no strings attached. Another constant is the relationships we have with our families, friends, neighbors, and, in particular, our parish community. Your response to requests, participation in online services, financial generosity, and offers to help others in need have been remarkable, and they have been a great blessing to me.

Today the bishop directed all parish churches to be closed through Easter Day, April 12. While that announcement distresses me greatly as your priest and pastor, it is necessary in order to slow down the spread of the virus. We will have Sunday services and all Holy Week services and Easter online. I’m going to be working with the clergy, staff, and altar guild about ways you can celebrate these events in your home as you watch online. I will send out a pastoral letter over the weekend outlining how we can stay connected and continue to do the work of this parish over the next few weeks.

Although the building is essentially closed for public gatherings right now, the work of the church continues. The staff is meeting and planning, the office is operating, leaders are meeting, parishioners are reaching out to one another, and the worship life of our community continues. Of course, we’re doing that differently and in new ways, but the work we do in partnership with God here in this place continues. Over the next couple of days, I’m going to work on additional ways to keep us connected and in touch with one another, and will be asking some of you to help with those initiatives. Watch for those, and please do read the communications that come from the parish.

Some have asked how I’m coping with all of this. To be completely honest with you, I’ve had a few sleepless nights lately. However, what has been helpful to me during all of this is really simple.

  • Before—and I emphasize before—reading or watching the news in the morning, I get coffee, find a quiet place, pray or just stare out the window, and usually give attention to Abi, our lab, who just can’t get enough attention. Begin the day with a centering practice of some kind; perhaps morning prayer or contemplative prayer. Read Scripture, especially the Gospels and the Psalms. For those new to the Episcopal Church (and some others who have been around for a while!) this would be a great time to explore the riches of The Book of Common Prayer. Meditate or practice yoga. The possibilities are endless!
  • Make a list, either mentally or on paper, of the things for which you are grateful. Gratitude for what we do have can help us frame and put into perspective what is going on in the world around us.
  • Stay in touch with others. Staying connected with family, friends, neighbors, and your parish community is vital. Use this as an opportunity to get acquainted with neighbors you don’t know or reconnect with friends. You might want to consider joining a group that is meeting online—a community service group, our women’s and men’s groups, youth group, or a special interest group.
  • Take care of yourself physically. Get out and enjoy this beautiful weather! Take a walk, work in the yard, enjoy the beauty of God’s creation in our part of it. Eat healthy foods, drink plenty of water, take a nap. Our physical well-being has a direct impact on our emotional/spiritual well-being.
  • Find ways to serve others. If you need ideas, reach out to me. Our Faith in Action Commission is meeting next week, and we may have additional ways to serve to share with you next week.
  • If you have time on your hands, learn about or explore something you’ve always wanted to know about but didn’t have the time. Although I’m pretty busy right now, I want to do some more research on greenhouse gardening.
  • Make the worship of God a priority. For Christians, this should go without saying, but one good thing that can come out of this is restoring the corporate worship of God to a central place in our schedules. Worship is not only for our comfort and encouragement, it is one of the ways God’s Spirit works in our lives to transform us.

Know that I am praying for all of you daily, and that our parish leadership stands ready to serve you in any way possible during these times. Since we celebrated St. Patrick’s Day earlier this week, I leave you with this blessing:

As I arise today,
may the strength of God pilot me,
the power of God uphold me,
the wisdom of God guide me.

May the eye of God look before me,
the ear of God hear me,
the word of God speak for me.

May the hand of God protect me,
the way of God lie before me,
the shield of God defend me,
the host of God save me.

May Christ shield me today.

Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,

Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit, Christ when I stand,

Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
Amen.

With love for all of you,
Fr. Steve+


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From the Rector: You’re Invited into Lent

In the Ash Wednesday liturgy of our Church, the Presider says the following: “Therefore, in the name of the Church, I invite you to the observance of a holy Lent.” For many centuries, and still to this day in some parts of the Church, an invitation to Lent was about as exciting as receiving an invitation from the dentist for a root canal! All that talk of fasting, prayer, penitence, discipline, and figuring out what to give up for Lent that won’t be too overbearing or inconvenient. I remember breaking the Ash Wednesday fast at a restaurant near the parish church I served in Chicago after the service. I was talking with a server at a restaurant in Chicago about Lent (I still had remnants of ashes on my forehead, which, on my forehead really stand out!) and he said to me, “Oooh, I grew up in church, and Lent was always absolutely the most horrible time of the year!” Somewhere, somehow, someone missed the point, don’t you think?
 
As the early church grew and developed, the liturgical year came into being as a way of recalling, celebrating, and learning from the life of Christ. In time, the period before Easter was set aside as a time of preparation for the great celebration of the Resurrection. In fact, the word “Lent” comes from a word which means “spring.” Beside our deck there are several dozen blooming crocus plants, announcing to the world that spring is right around the corner. They also announce to me that it’s time to prepare the flower and vegetable beds, plant some seeds in the greenhouse, and start the pruning of the rose bushes. That’s what Lent is really all about—giving attention to the soil of our souls so that God can bring new life, new growth. Therefore, I invite you to prepare for the new thing God wants to do in your life.

Prepare the Soil

We’re offering several ways to prepare the soil of our heart this year:
  • On Sundays, the adult formation offering and the sermons will be geared toward finding ways to be more open to God’s work in our lives.
  • On three Wednesday nights during Lent, March 11, 18 & 25, we’ll explore how prayer is an essential part of our Lenten preparation work, and the different ways in which we can pray.
  • During the week, you can engage in a fun spiritual practice called Lent Madness.
Serving by giving of your time and resources is “heart work,” too.
  • The youth are collecting items for personal hygiene kits,
  • Issaquah Meals will prepare and serve dinner on March 14, and
  • we’ll collect the Good Friday offering that goes to support the social ministries of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem.
Often, it’s helpful during Lent to think about what to subtract so there’s more space to just relax or enjoy time with family, friends, or yourself. I read an article over the weekend on the spiritual discipline of doing nothing. In our culture, doing nothing really is a spiritual discipline.
 
Whatever you decide will be helpful to you during this holy season, I encourage you to be intentional and consistent. After all, Lent is about responding to God’s invitation to the full and joy-filled life Jesus promised us. You’re invited!
 
Hoping you’ll RSVP “yes,”
Fr. Steve+

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Reverse Advent Calendar

This year we’re introducing a new Advent tradition that is not only fun to do, but teaches little ones and reminds adults about the grace of sharing. Many advent calendars will contain a small gift or candy that is opened or received on each day of Advent, leading up to Christmas Day. The Reverse Advent Calendar focuses attention on sharing with those in need and the joy that comes from giving. You and your family is encouraged to purchase at least one or more of the items in week 1 and 3, bring it to church on the following Sunday for a blessing and distribution. In week 2, you’re encouraged to read and reflect on material about the ministries of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem and bring an offering on Sunday, December 15, to support their work.

Use the link below to download PDFs of the guide and the calendar, which you can attach to the fridge for easy reference!

Download the complete guide.

Download the calendar only.


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Note from the Rector: Come, Holy Spirit

This Sunday, June 9, we will recall and celebrate the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to his first disciples: that he would send the Holy Spirit who would make Christ’s presence known throughout the whole earth to every believer until the end of time. Pentecost, as some of you may recall, is actually a Jewish feast (Shavuot) and was primarily a thanksgiving festival for the firstfruits of the wheat harvest. It was later associated with a remembrance of the Law given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai. The church’s transformation of the Jewish feast to a Christian festival was thus related to the belief that the gift of the Holy Spirit to the followers of Jesus was the firstfruits of a new dispensation that fulfilled and succeeded the old dispensation of the Law. The gift of the Spirit also serves as the source of our unity as Christians, and our call and empowerment for ministry and service in the Church and the world.
 
This Sunday our Journey with Jesus does not end; it is just the beginning! Walking with Jesus through his life, death and resurrection, learning from his teachings and example how to walk in the Way of Love and seriously considering what it means to be his Beloved Community where we are is really the groundwork and foundation for actually doing the work of Jesus in our own context. In other words, now the real fun begins! As part of our celebration on Sunday, we will meet one last time this spring for adult formation at 9:15 am to discuss the next step in our journey to be God’s Beloved Community here in Sammamish. Please join us for this important conversation!
 
After we celebrate the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, we will delve into how the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives, helping us to become more Christ-like in our character and strengthening us to do the work he has given us to do. Beginning on June 23, the same day we begin the summer worship schedule (one service at 9:30 am), we will begin a 9-part summer sermon series on the fruit of the Spirit. Plan to be at church on these Sundays when you’re in town as we explore love, peace, patience, joy, kindness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.
 
With much anticipation,
Fr. Steve+

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The Deacon’s Corner: Celtic Spirituality

by Deacon Kathryn Ballinger
 
One of the primary marks of Celtic spirituality is its belief in the essential goodness of creation. It believes that the natural world is infinitely deep. Everything in creation has issued forth from the invisible and contains something of the unseen life of God; otherwise it would cease to exist. Because God’s life is like the heartbeat at the center of life, pulsating within, it sustains all that is. All created things are an expression of God for our souls to experience, to see and feel. God is forever communication his life and love in and through the outward forms of creation so we can come to a knowledge of God through the universe.
 
Join us at Celtic Evening Prayer on Sunday, March 17, at 6:30 pm.

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The Deacon’s Corner: St. Patrick

by The Rev. Kathryn Ballinger

St. Patrick of Ireland is one of the most popular saints. He was born in Roman Britain in 387AD, and when he was about 14, he was captured by Irish pirates during a raiding party. He was taken to Ireland as a slave to herd and tend sheep. It was the land of Druids and pagans, but Patrick turned to God. He prayed in the woods and on the mountains, often through the night. Patrick’s captivity lasted until he was 20 when he escaped. He had a dream from God in which he was told to leave Ireland by going to the coast. He found sailors who took him back to Britain, and he was reunited with his family. Years later he had a vision in which the people of Ireland cried out for him to come back and walk among them. The vision prompted his studies for the priesthood. He was ordained a priest and later a bishop and sent to take the Gospel to Ireland. He arrived in Ireland in 433AD. There are many legends and miracles surrounding him. Over 40 years of preaching, he converted thousands of people and built many churches across the country. And after years of living in poverty, traveling, and suffering, he died in 461AD. Patrick was a humble, pious, gentle man, with a love and total devotion and trust in God. “The Breastplate” is a poem of Patrick and of his faith in God.

Christ be within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ unguarded, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.


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The Deacon’s Corner: Star of Wonder

by The Rev. Kathryn Ballinger

Behold, Magi from the East arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the new born King of the Jews? We saw his star in it’s rising and have come to do him homage.” Matthew 2:1–2

The story of the star and the Magi has fascinated us since childhood. Artists have tried to capture the blazing glory of this manifestation—Emanuel, God with us. We imagine a dark and chilly night. Out on the horizon we can see three shapes silhouetted against the midnight blue velvet night sky. We can hear the muffled plodding of camel feet on the dunes. A bright star gleams like a beacon overhead. Three exotic men loom out of the darkness dressed in rich and heavy robes. They bear gifts as they kneel before the babe and his mother. And like Mary, we ponder all these things in our heart. What star do we follow and where is it taking us? God’s love illumines our path as we journey to God like the Magi. We come to God bearing our precious gifts of hearts transformed by his love and spirits at rest in his peace. But the greatest gift is our journey itself. Our life is a journey home to God. Like the Magi, we are wanderers seeking an encounter with the Divine. The Magi are role models for living life more fully. We notice they were totally focused on God, and they took risks when facing the unknown. And they were discerning, being prayerfully attentive to the voice of God along their journey. Our personal journeys may have detours and questions. It may require sacrifice, patience, and hard work. And it always involves listening; listening to a voice that may call at any time to set out in the darkness, the unknown, guided only by a star of hope. Doubt and fear are always part of our response. Change is difficult; we’re never ready, but the soft inviting whisper will not go away. So the star of wonder shines on in each of our hearts, illuminating and ever guiding us, and the darkness will not overcome it.


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The “E” Word

by The Rev. Dr. Steve Danzey

It’s time we talked about the “E” Word. No, I don’t mean “e-mail” or “e-commerce.” I’m referring to a word that gives many of us the heebee-geebees (how’s that for a word choice?): Evangelism. In spite of all our fears and the many ways the word is abused, “evangelism” is a good word. Simply put, it means “to share good news.” This Sunday evening we have a wonderful opportunity to do evangelism and do it really well—sharing the good news about God’s love made known to us in the birth of Christ and the unique way our Good Samaritan community lives out our faith.

When I say doing evangelism really well, here’s what I mean: Sunday afternoon at 5 pm, we’re inviting our community to gather in our space to sing carols and songs that are as much a part of our culture as they are the Christian faith itself. Who doesn’t love a fun carol sing-along? Included in our gathering will be—you guessed it—food. Cookies. Dozens of cookies. Christmas cookies! And hot chocolate and cider. St. Nick will appear at some point to give out chocolate, too. Do I have your attention yet???!!!!

I encourage you to be here and bring your friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers this Sunday afternoon. Not only will it be a great community building event, but an opportunity to share the unique way we live out the Good News through fellowship, song, and hospitality. Based on the response so far, we’re anticipating quite a few folks from our Preschool and the community at large. Come a little early to grab a cookie or two and something to drink before we begin singing. And if you see someone here you don’t know, introduce yourself to them and let them know that they’re always welcome here at Good Samaritan. Just showing up and giving the gift of hospitality makes you an evangelist. It’s just that simple and easy!

E-xpectantly,

Fr. Steve+


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The Deacon’s Corner: Advent Memories and Longing

by The Rev. Kathryn Ballinger
 
Maybe we can never go back in time and recapture the feelings and anticipation of childhood Christmases. Maybe the memories are sufficient to sustain us. But there are moments when the wonder and awe and beauty sweep over us and we again experience the delicious anticipation of a child. We are swept up again with the wonder of cold starry nights, candlelight, and music. Our souls are lifted up, and we experience a spiritually “thin place” where we experience the nearness of the Holy and deep longing. Such was the evening of Lessons and Carols on December 2. Advent is a “now” experience as well as a historical event. Since the coming of Christ goes on forever, there is always an Advent going on. We are the people of Advent. Therefore we can see all the characters of the Advent that was “then” in our Advent which is “now.” Where in our lives is John the Baptist, provoking us to become aware of new things happening in our lives? Where is Zachariah in our lives, not immediately open to what is new? Where is Elizabeth, so ready to appreciate the coming of the Lord? Where is Joseph, so gracious when all was so strange? And Mary, where is she in us, trusting and welcoming the word in her heart? For where we find Mary in ourselves, there we find Christ being born in our souls. All of us are called to incarnate the seed of Christ.

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