Feast of the Epiphany — January 5, 2020

The readings for today’s feast can be found here.

The story of the Epiphany, which we just heard proclaimed in the Gospel, is a story of faith.  It is a story of faith in exercise, and it is a story of faith rewarded.  It then leads to a lifetime of being enlightened by the glory of God, and letting that glory shower down upon others in our lives.           The three kings, the three wise men, the three magi, whatever you want to call them must have had faith, or they must have been open to receiving the faith that was being offered to them.  I think that they must have been open to it, for what would the appearance of a star mean to them, unless they were open to being prepared to receive the King, the Messiah that was portended?  I think that they must have been open to it because what else would have caused them to leave their kingdoms, their homeland, to travel to an unknown district in search of faith’s goal, Jesus Christ?  And so, we need to ask ourselves, do we act with the same kind of faith?  Do we have faith that Jesus is working steadily in our lives, begging us to come to Him?  Or are we not open to receive the greatest of all gifts, the graces of Jesus Christ in our hearts.  In short, do we or do we not exercise our faith in our lives, letting it encourage us to seek Him?

Moving on, after the kings reached Jerusalem, they were confronted by those who had no faith, those worldly people seeking their own power and glory.  We have those kind of people all around us as well.  And so I think we should as ourselves: do we display our faith to others, even though we know those others lack the faith we have?  Do we hide the graces and glory God has given us in our lives, because we worry about what they might say, or do to us?  Or do we embrace our faith as the wise men did, and carry on our journey towards Christ proudly?

Moving forward, the kings reached the baby Jesus and His Mother and did Him homage, bringing gifts of great worth to Him.  We can ask ourselves, what do we offer to the Lord, do we offer Him what is really meaningful to Him, or just what we can spare?  Do we offer Him all of the time, talent, and treasure that we could give to Him, in response to the great gifts He has given us?

I think that if most of us knew that Jesus was around the corner, we would desire to go to Him.  I think that if we knew that Jesus was present here we would bring our best things to Him and do Him homage.  The question is, do we do that, do we bring our best to Him, now in faith, or are we waiting for some other sort of revelation before we give all to Him?

In another Gospel, one about what would happen at the end times, Jesus said that whatever we do for the least of those amongst us, we do for Him.  Can we not do homage to our King by treating others around us with respect, love, and care?  Can we not be as generous with our gifts in service of others as if we saw Christ?  Can we let ourselves be moved by the generosity of the faith within us, to give all to our neighbors in love?  That is the call of the Gospel.

The story of the Epiphany is a story of faith, faith exercised, faith rewarded, and faith demonstrating God’s glory to others.  Let us live our faith as the wise men did before us!

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Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God — January 1, 2020

The passage of time, the tick of the clock, the turn of the calendar page, the changing of the calendar itself from 2019 to 2020 is very useful to us in the practicalities of our lives.  Time passes, and we measure it.  But what passes is merely transitory; we don’t ever get it back.  Every second, every minute, every hour, every day, every month, every year is lost to the annals of time, never, ever to be seen again.  We lose time in our lives, rather, it is stripped from us without our consent, never to be given back to us again.

And so we look to other things that we hope are not transitory to give us our stability.  We look to wealth, to possessions, to health, etc.  But, we find that these too are transitory as well.  The value of our bank accounts go up and down, our investments change in value, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, but over time they do change.  We tend to get more and more possessions, but even these can be lost, damaged or destroyed.  Our health can be good because we have good genes, we eat right, and we exercise, but still, at some point our good health will be called into question, we all get sick, and there will be some end for our lives.  The point is this: the things we look to for stability are not stable, they are transitory as well.  “You can’t take it with you” is one of the cliché remarks we make when this reality comes to mind.

However, there are eternal things, there are things that will never change, that will last.  It is in these things that we should find our stability.  What things are stable?  Truth is stable, for one.  The precepts of the Lord, handed down through the Church to each of us are true, and they are eternal.  It is not my truth or your truth — it is THE truth.  Loving God and loving your neighbor will never get old; the Ten Commandments will never change.  We should therefore contemplate the truths of the Lord, for they are eternal.  

What else is stable?  Our eternal souls are stable.  There will never be a time where our souls do not exist.  You and I exist and will always exist.  We should contemplate the state of our souls and determine if we are prepared to spend eternity in heaven.  We have the time now to avail ourselves of the Lord’s mercy and to do good works through prayer, penance, and almsgiving.    We should be spending our time here on earth preparing ourselves for the eternal judgment of our souls.  Not to be too scary, but it will occur and it is up to us where we end up, depending how we respond to the Lord’s love and mercy.  Our money and possessions will not go with us, but our good works will.

Finally, and not in this particular order that I listed, God is stable, God is eternal.  God is eternally reaching out to us, constantly begging us to turn to Him, consistently pleading with us to let Him deeper into our hearts.  The Lord Jesus is constant in offering to us the mercy He won for us through His Passion and Death.  The Redemption is eternal.  We can bank on that, but only if we avail ourselves of that mercy.

Today, as we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, let us turn to Her in a special way for Her aid.  Let us ask Her to help us to turn ourselves to the eternal things, God, truth, and our eternal souls for stability and away from the fleeting things, time, wealth, possessions and health.  Let us all try to be like the humble Mother of God, seeking God in all things, and seeking only the things that bring us to God.

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Feast of the Holy Family — December 29, 2019

I am always struck by the fact that the eternal Son of God chose to come into this world as a little baby.  It did not have to be this way — Jesus could have come as an adult human being, or at some other stage — but Jesus came as a little baby so that He might experience everything that human beings experience. 

And Jesus was born into a family — the Holy Family which we celebrate today.  The moment Jesus was conceived, the moment Mary consented to receiving Christ, and the moment Joseph took Mary into his home, the Holy Family began to be.  And Jesus Christ of course was central to this family.  All of the trials that they underwent, being born in a stable, the flight into Egypt to escape Herod, etc. were because Jesus was central to this family.  The Holy Family had Jesus at the center and is designed to show us how our families should be.

How many families have never occurred because Christ was not kept central in the lives of men and women who have come together to bear children?  

How many families have split apart because Christ was not kept central to the family as the love that keeps men and women together?  

How many families live with strife and without joy even now because Christ is not kept central in the daily occurrences of their lives? 

The Lord Jesus did not come as an adult, He came as a little baby, dependent upon a family to nurture Him – but now it is the Lord Jesus that is the one that nurtures families through His presence in their lives.  Only Jesus can bring true peace — only He can bring true love — only He can bring true joy to a family. 

And so we must ask ourselves: how often do we pray within our families?

How often do we worship together as a family at Mass?

How often do we spend time together in the loving embrace of our family members? 

Or let us ask ourselves, how often do we go our own way within our family, turning within ourselves with our televisions, our smart devices, and our work? 

Which path do we think — common prayer and worship, or individual living and pursuits — will keep a family together?  Which path will keep Christ in the center, so that our family is protected? 

The good news is that we have great hope that we can keep Christ central in our families.  We can resolve to pray together more, whether it is prayer at meals, prayer before bedtime, a family Rosary.  We can increase the amount of religious discussion that we have around the dinner table.  We can spend quality time with one another sharing the love that Christ has for our families.  We can turn to Christ at any time.

On this feast of the Holy Family, let us pray that through the intercession of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, our families will be kept holy, peaceful, and joyful, knowing that peace, joy, and holiness can only come with keeping Christ central in our lives.

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Christmas — December 25, 2019

Readings from the Mass at Night are found here.

My dear brothers and sisters, how blessed we are.  It may not always seem that way, if we think of the trials of life, the difficulties, the tragedies, the losses and the like.  But we are truly blessed and I am sure that that realization has brought you to this Church to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus.  Do we feel blessed?  Do we have that feeling that the Lord is with us?  I imagine that in this Church this evening (morning) (afternoon) some of us do and some of us don’t.  But, that does not change the fact that we are here, and here for a reason.

Our first reading this evening (morning) (afternoon) presents such a powerful message as to why we are here.  Isaiah wrote: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.”  How often do we feel that life is so overwhelming, between job and family, illness, deaths, and bitter tragedies?  How often do we feel that we trudge through life that seems endless and without direction?  Where is that light spoken about by Isaiah, when all we might see around us is gloom?  Where is that light, when all we might be able to see in front of us is darkness?

Isaiah went on to write that “the yoke that burdened them, the pole on their shoulder, and the rod of their taskmaster has been smashed.”  Does it feel as if our work is easy?  Does it feel as if we are free?  Does it feel as if we are unburdened?  What in the world is Isaiah talking about – this doesn’t seem to be the world that we live in!

In fact, it is NOT the world that we are called to live in; it is NOT the world that the Lord has built for us.  Although we live in this world, we are called to place our minds, hearts, and souls in the realm of Heaven.  St. Paul writes in his letter to Titus, the second reading from this evening (morning) (afternoon), “The grace of God has appeared, saving all, and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires, and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age.”  First of all, the grace of God has appeared.  Jesus has come into our world; today we celebrate His birth, his coming unto us to bring us the free gift of grace from God.  But, second, that grace comes with a purpose – it is grace to strengthen us to reject godless ways, and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age.  We have a choice now.  Are we as eager to receive this Christmas present into our hearts as we might to receive the new television, the new shoes, or the new game?  Are we as eager to grow closer to God and receive the Christmas present of His grace in our hearts as we are to attend Christmas dinners and parties?  My dear brothers and sisters, Christmas is about the grace that God offers us, first in the birth of His Son, but continuing in our hearts as we live our lives in this world.  We have the choice to accept it or reject it.  We can return the gift, and select another, although I would say that would be a poor choice.

Why should we accept the Lord’s gift of grace?  Quite simply, it is because only God can bring us joy and peace.  The new shoes might bring some moments of happiness, the television hours of enjoyment, the new game some amount of fun.  The parties and the dinners might raise our spirits and fill our bellies.  But, all those things are fleeting, they all come to an end, they are all only partial joys.  And, not one of them can bring us peace, for we will have disagreements over what show to watch, the shine on the shoes will get scuffed, and the game will result in a loser.  Parties and dinners sometimes result in the old resentments and difficulties being brought up.  These “celebrations” of Christmas do not bring what Christ Jesus came to bring us.

The angel declared to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid; for behold I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For today in the city of David, a savior has been born who is Christ the Lord.”  The angels then broke out into song exclaiming, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”  Christ Jesus, born today for us brings us God’s grace and brings us salvation.  There is no salvation for you or me without Him or God’s grace working in our lives.  There is no lasting joy for you or me without Him or God’s grace working in our lives.  There is no peace for you or me without Him or God’s grace working in our lives.

I asked earlier: Do we feel blessed?  Do we feel the Lord is with us?  Is our work easy, are we unburdened, are we free?  Do we walk in gloom and darkness?  Those questions are for you to ponder.  If we do feel blessed and unburdened and free and if we do walk in the light, gloom free, I am certain that we know the Lord in our lives.  If not, perhaps it is we who are resisting the gifts that Christ came to bring.  Perhaps, we are kind of returning the gift He wants to share with us.

How do we accept the graces that God wants us to accept?  We accept it through faithful prayer and worship.  We need to pray every day from our hearts.  We need to share everything with the Lord, and that takes some effort on our parts.  We need to have a loving relationship with the Lord that can occur with no other human being.  We also need to worship faithfully.  We need to come together at Church to experience the Sacraments, God’s grace being given into our lives.  If we are not at Mass, we cannot receive God’s graces in the Eucharist.  If we do not confess our sins, we cannot be forgiven of them by God and receive His grace to amend our lives, and live temperately and devoutly in this life as St. Paul encouraged.  In short, we are nothing without God in our lives.

So today, on this Christmas day, let us open ourselves to receive Him.  Let us resolve to do everything in our power to receive God’s grace into our hearts, to accept His love, to accept His peace, and to accept His joy – the love, the peace, and the joy that is everlasting.  Let us greet our newborn Savior with praise!  Merry Christmas!

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Fourth Sunday of Advent — December 22, 2019

Today’s Mass readings can be found here.

Imagine for a moment you were planning on buying a new house.  You did an extensive search, looked at the neighborhood, checked up on the school system, and looked at the crime statistics.  You find a beautiful house, in a quiet neighborhood, but close to all of the stores.  It seems like the perfect house.  You talk it over with your friends and family, you go to your banker and get the money you need for the mortgage.  Everything seems to be falling into place.  So, you take the leap, sign the contract, and prepare to move.  Shortly before the closing, your inspector comes to you and tells you, “I have some bad news for you.  The house is not all it seems — there is something growing inside the house and we don’t really know where it came from.”  So, you think to yourself, “well, my purchase of this house was dependent on it passing inspection and it didn’t, so, I will just cancel the contract to buy the house.  I will call my lawyer in the morning.”  But, that night you go to sleep and you have a dream and an angel of the Lord appears to you in that dream telling you, “Don’t be afraid to buy that house.  That stuff that is growing inside the house is the ingredient humanity needs to cure cancer.  Go, buy that house, and take care of what is growing inside it!” 

Now, I don’t know about you, but if someone came to me and told me that this story happened to them, I would be a little skeptical about following the advice of an angel in a dream, when all of the facts seem to indicate that they should not buy this house.  I would examine the person carefully to determine whether or not they were open to receiving the will of the Lord as a mystic would, or if they were just a little crazy.

But, this is what happened to St. Joseph.  He had contracted marriage with Mary, but in the year that was customary to wait before the wife would come to live with him, she was found pregnant.  She must have been adulterous, and therefore it is right to divorce her, according to the Law of Moses.  Then the angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, told him not to be afraid, and he went off, took Mary into his house, and protected her and the Christ child.  Would we be able to do the same, to trust an angel in a dream?  What would Joseph’s friends have thought about this decision when they found out?  How did he know to believe this angel in his dream?

The key to understanding how Joseph knew that it was right to believe the angel lies in the detail that St. Matthew provides for us in the Gospel — Joseph was a righteous man, a just man.  The audience to which Matthew wrote this Gospel would have known exactly what this meant, what it means to be a just man, a righteous man.  They would have thought to Psalm 1, the first psalm, the psalm they would sing very often, which describes to the Jew just what it means to be just.  Let me read the beginning of that psalm for you: “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the manner of sinners, nor sit in the company of scoffers.”  In other words, a just person does not listen to the wisdom of the world, does not surround themselves with people who persist in their sins, and does not surround themselves with gossip. 

The psalm continues: “Rather the Law of the Lord is his joy; and on his law he meditates day and night.”  The Law of the Lord is not merely the Mosaic Law or the Ten Commandments — it would have been the whole first five books of the Bible, the torah. For a Christian, it would be the Gospels.  A just person would read, meditate upon the scriptures day and night, and doing this brings them deep joy.  The psalm continues: “He is like a tree planted near streams of water, that yields its fruit in due season; its leaves never wither; whatever he does prospers.”  A just person drinks in the scriptures as water nourishes a strong, fruitful tree; they are planted near this river of life.

That is what Matthew was describing when he said Joseph was a righteous man.  Joseph was a man firmly grounded in God and His Word, he lived his whole life immersed in God, and God was his joy.  That is how Joseph knew to believe this angel. 

For a just person sees that God is working everywhere in their life, they have discernment, they have trust, they have hope, they have joy.  They know how to know what God wants them to do. 

If we want to make the right decisions in our lives we must do the same as St. Joseph — be just.  If we want to be trusting people, we need to be just.  If we want to have hope in our lives, we need to be just.  If we want to have joy in our lives, we need to be just.  So, let us be just!

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Third Sunday of Advent — December 15, 2019

It is the third Sunday of Advent.  Christmas is coming again.  It is one year since the last Christmas . . . what has changed in our lives?  I think that is a good question to ask of ourselves, as we progress in our spiritual journey this Advent.  Think back – ask yourself — where was I in my spiritual journey at this time last year?  Where was I in relationship to the Lord last year when we lit the rose-colored candle last year?  Where am I now in relationship with the Lord?  Has there been progress one year later?  Am I more fully His disciple than I was last year?  Am I more committed to prayer, to service of my brothers and sisters, to worship of my God, than I was last year?  Has there been progress in overcoming sin and sinful habits since last year?  What still needs to change?  What can I do to help that change occur?

Christmas is now a week and a half away.  Are we concerned about all of the things that need to get done between now and then?  I know I am and a lot of other people are as well.  But, we have to catch hold of ourselves as well.  We need to stop for some time and pay attention to what is going on in our spiritual lives.  Those questions I ask of myself and I ask you to consider, they are important: Where am I in my relationship with the Lord?  Has there been any progress this year or have I gone further away from Him?  Am I more committed to my faith than I was last year — in prayer, in service, in worship?  Have I been trying to overcome sin in my life, or am I on autopilot when it comes to that?  What still needs to change, and how can I seek out that change?

The season of Advent is one of preparation for our Messiah to come once again.  He is coming – are we more or less prepared this year to meet Him?

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Second Sunday of Advent — December 8, 2019

Today’s readings can be found here.

Brothers and sisters, in our first reading from the prophet Isaiah, we hear of an idyllic world that will come when Christ comes again into our world.  Isaiah describes that wolves and lambs, leopards and goats, calves and lions, cows and bears, babies and poisonous snakes will be live together in peace.  Mortal enemies will be friends when Christ comes again to rule the Earth.  There will be justice, peace, no harm, no ruin.  It sounds like a pretty good thing to look forward to — we remember that this Season of Advent is not only about awaiting the coming of Jesus at Christmas, we also await his return at the end of time, judging and fully redeeming the very world we live in.

However, that redemption, the creation of a new Heaven and a new Earth, fully in keeping with that description of Isaiah and in the writings of St. Paul, while open to everyone, is not, sadly, going to be experienced by everyone.  The promise is for the faithful, the ones who live the life of a Christian, the ones who, as John the Baptist said in today’s Gospel reading, produce good fruit as evidence of our repentance.  And that is why John went off into the desert to preach — he wanted people to come and repent, so that they might be ready for the Lord’s coming, not just for Jesus’s earthly ministry that we have already encountered, but also for His Second Coming at the end of time.

John the Baptist was an aesthetic.  He wore itchy clothes, he ate only lousy food, he went off by himself, lonely, and poor.  He denied himself of good things (He was the son of Zechariah of the priestly class, and thus would have been somewhat well-off).  He denied himself good things, for the sake of a greater thing — the proclamation of a baptism of repentance.  And indeed, he did baptize.  Today’s Gospel states that the people of “Jerusalem, all Judea and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan river, as they acknowledged their sins.”  Everyone was streaming out to see him in the desert.  That must have been such a sight to see all of these people going out and humbling themselves.  Would that we would do the same — we know we cannot be baptized again, but we do have the Sacraments of the Church that are provided for the same effect.

John said that we need to produce good fruit as evidence of our repentance.  But, we cannot do so without God’s grace in our lives.  That means doing those things I mentioned last week — prayer, worthily receiving the Eucharist, going to confession to make sure that our reception of the Eucharist is worthy, and practicing humility and denying ourselves, asceticism, that is, as did John the Baptist.   If we do these things we will have no worries about the judgment of Christ either in our individual lives when we die or the judgment of the world at the end of time, because we will be one with him.  If we do these things, we become more and more fruitful, we become more and more Christian. If we do these things we will transform the world with the love of Christ.

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First Sunday of Advent — December 1, 2019

Brothers and sisters, welcome to Advent! Welcome to the beginning of a new Church year! And thank you for welcoming me today as I begin to serve you! Because there are these three “beginnings,” I felt that it was a good idea to preach at all the weekend Masses, to help give you an idea of what you might find in me, what I am like, and what I am about. You are understandably curious about me and I am curious about you all as well, and I Iook forward to getting to know all of you!

In today’s Gospel, Jesus said there will be two people in the field working, one will be taken into the Kingdom, one will be left behind. Two working at the mill, one will be taken, one will be left behind. What is the difference between the two: why is only one taken, and why is one left behind?

Before I get to that, there is a question that I normally ask people when I am trying to get to know them, and I will ask it myself today, and I will even try to answer it for you. The question is: what is the most important thing that I want you to know about me?

I think the answer for me is two-fold and the second part depends on the first part. The first answer is that I want to be holy. I want to go to Heaven when I die. I want to live in the eternal embrace of God the Father in His Kingdom. You see, I am not holy, but I want to be. I have sins, I have sinfulness, I don’t always pray enough, I don’t always love enough, I don’t always work hard enough, and I don’t always do the right thing. But, I want to do better, and I want to do so with God’s grace, such that at the end of my life, God will say to me: “well done, my good and faithful servant.” That’s the first most important thing about me that I want you to know: I want to be holy. I want to go to Heaven.

The second most important thing about me that I want you to know is that I want all of you to be holy as well. Not only is that my appointed mission, but it is also my deep desire. From the moment I sent in the letter requesting to be considered for the Administrator of this Parish, I have been praying for all of you. From the moment the Cardinal called me to ask me to minister to you, I have been begging the Lord to make me worthy enough to help you find Him more deeply in your lives. It is my deepest hope that you will join me on this journey towards the Lord. We are on the same path — I am no different in this from any of you. Let us grow more holy together!

Before we say that this is too much, before we say that there is no way we can be holy, before we think that this is beyond any of us, let us remember that the Church of Jesus Christ has been making Saints for 2000 years. And…there is a plan. It’s not my plan, it is the plan of the Church that has made people grow in holiness for centuries. I hope everyone here joins me in trying to stay laser-focused on this plan.

There are four parts to what I think we should center upon. First, prayer. No doubt about it, this is the beginning and end of everything. Before any important decision in Jesus’s life, and routinely in Jesus’s life, He prayed. And it was not merely rote memorized prayers, although we know He prayed the psalms. It was deep, meditative, contemplative prayer where He shared His whole life with His heavenly Father. On this journey towards holiness, we must seek to make our prayer deeper and more meaningful every day.

Second, the Eucharist. This assembly of the People of God in this local Parish is paramount to attaining holiness. We are not individuals as Christians, we are members of Christ’s Body, and He gathers us together each week. We come to praise God the Father through Him as members of His Body. We come to thank Him for all of the blessings in our lives. We come to re-experience Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross for us to make us holy, to make His Bride, the Church, holy. We come to be nourished with the fruit of that sacrifice, the very Body and Blood of our Lord. This is not symbolic — this is real. And, it is necessary for each one of us.

Third, Reconciliation. To become fruitful, a plant must be pruned from time to time. To become holy, we must be pruned also. The bad parts must be cut off. The good parts must be shaped. The Sacrament of Reconciliation does this for us. We are all sinners and we are in need of God’s forgiveness. We cannot become holy without being forgiven and experiencing God’s forgiveness. That is the beauty of the Sacrament — when we hear those words: “May God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins,” God’s forgiveness and grace is given to us. If we stay away from confession, we wither, rot, and die.

Fourth, and people might not like this one. Heck, I don’t like this one! Asceticism. Asceticism means to deny ourselves, not just of bad things, but also of things that are good, for the sake of a greater good. People who aspire to be athletes do this all the time — they watch what they eat, they exercise, they focus on goals. We can do no less if we aspire to be holy! Traditional ways of practicing asceticism, in addition to increasing more fruitful prayer are fasting, almsgiving, and service. When we fast, we deny ourselves of one good, that is food, for the sake of a greater good, that is God. When we give monetarily to the Church or to the poor, we deny ourselves of one good, our hard-earned money, for the sake of a greater good, that is God’s Church and all of His Children. When we give of ourselves in service, we deny ourselves of the freedom of doing what we want when we want it, for the sake of a greater good, laying down our very lives for others.

So, brothers and sisters, we begin Advent and we begin a new Church year. When there were two people in the field, one was taken to the Kingdom, and one was left behind. When there were two people at the mill, one was taken, and one was left behind. Why? Holiness is the answer. I think that at times when there are new beginnings, it is always good to check ourselves and to decide our path. I will try to wake up everyday focusing on holiness. Everything I do here, I will try to have this destination in mind. I hope you will join me on this journey.

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