Tag Archives: Advent

“Peace on Earth” – Classic MGM Christmas Cartoon

23 Dec

Peace On Earth. Classic Christmas cartoon. MGM 1939. Anti-war.

Here is my early Christmas gift to all of my friends and visitors to this blog. I hope you take the 8 1/2 minutes to watch this extraordinary classic cartoon. It is distinguished as being the only cartoon to be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. I would describe this as a post-apocalyptic, dystopian-yet-utopian tale that presents the true meaning of the peace associated with the Christmas story in a manner that makes it still as relevant today as it was when it was first released, back in 1939. Think of it as an extended meditation on the twin themes of the “peaceable kingdom” and “turning swords into plowshares” that figure so prominently in the Book of Isaiah; two themes which serve as a backdrop to the story of the first Christmas found in the Gospels of Mathhew and Luke. What is ironic and sad is that this cartoon’s powerful anti-war message was largely forgotten or ignored just two years later when the USA entered the throes of WWII.

I post this now as we enter into this year’s Christmas season in hope that perhaps the message of this cartoon may engender in some people a reconsideration of the subversive but much needed message of Christmas: of the power of non-violent love that was incarnated in the coming of the Christ child some 2000 years ago. As we reflect on the sorrow, injustice and violence that plague our world right now, it should be clear that we need this cartoon’s simple message of peace and hope even more today.

I would love to have you post your reactions and thoughts here once you enjoy this heartwarming cartoon and ruminate over its message. And you are certainly encouraged to share or re-post this!

Merry Christmas and “Peace to All People of Good Will!!!”

Tom

New Series of Advent Video Reflections

5 Dec

I’d like to pass on this example from a new series of Advent video reflections that feature the beautiful artwork of Brother Mickey McGrath. The promise is that a new reflection will be posted each day throughout the Advent season. The focus of this particular video is his painting “The Annunciation.” Enjoy, be inspired, and you are certainly encouraged to share this!

Advent Resource: The O Antiphons (Dec 17 – 23)

17 Dec

 

Each year, beginning with December 17th and continued through December 23rd, the Church celebrates a centuries old countdown towards the coming of the feast of Christmas through its daily singing of the “O Antiphons.” The “O Antiphons” seemed to have begun in the 7th century for use during the Vespers (evening) prayer and were sung before and after the Magnificat during this period; one verse being sung as a form of meditation on the significance and meaning of the coming of Jesus Christ as a fulfillment of the deepest longings not only of the Jewish people, but that of all human heart. The original melody was lost but have been kept alive through the beautiful Latin hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

A different antiphon is sung and associated with each day during this time, each representing a short scriptural meditation of a few lines long. Each centers on a particular messianic title and ends with a prayerful petition related to the meaning of that title. Each antiphon reads as an inspired jewel of poetry that should serve for Christians as a kind of mantra. Prayerfully meditating upon them can lead us into delving ever deeper into the rich meaning of the mystery of the Incarnation for ourselves and for the world.

Here is a list of the O Antiphons according to the day on which each is celebrated. Following each is an English translation of the original Latin verse associated with each antiphon. Also note that related scriptural verses are provided.

Isaiah 22:22; Revelation 3:7

 

The themes of the “O Antiphons” (see the illustration above for these) are drawn from the Hebrew Scriptures, mainly from images found in the prophet Isaiah, although in a couple one finds allusions to stories found in the books of Genesis and Exodus. In a little Advent / Christmas pamphlet I have used since I was a child, we find a this helpful explanation concerning the order in which the O Antiphons are celebrated by a Jesuit priest named Fr. William J. McGarry, S.J.:

There is a climactic order in these antiphons. In the first, O Sapentia [i.e., Latin for “O Wisdom”], we take a backward flight into the recesses of eternity to address Wisdom, the Word of God. In the second, O Adonai [Latin for “O Lord], we have leaped from eternity to the time of Moses and the Law of Moses (about 1400 B.C.). In the third, O Radix Jesse [Latin for “O Root of Jesse”], we have come to the time when God was preparing the line of David (about 1100 B.C.). In the fourth, O Clovis David [Latin for “O Key of David”], we have come to the year 1000. In the fifth, O Oriens [Latin for “O Rising Dawn”], we see that the line of David is elevated so that the peoples may look on a rising star in the east, and hence in the sixth, O Rex Gentium [Latin for “O King of Nations], we know that He is a king of all the world of [humankind}. The brings us to the evening before the vigil [of Christmas], and before coming to the town limits of Bethlehem, we salute Him [i.e., Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God and descendant of David] with the last Great O, O Emmanuel, God-with-us.” [This passage quoted from Fr. McGarry’s book “He Cometh” in the pamphlet entitled  Family Advent Customs, 1954 Liturgical Press]

In other words, the O Antiphons present us with survey of salvation history as it is presented in biblical revelation, and helps us to appreciate God’s providential preparation for the coming of Jesus that we celebrate at Christmas time.

December 17 – O Wisdom (O Sapientia)

O wisdom, coming forth from the Most High, filling all creation and reigning to the ends of the earth; come and teach us the way  of truth.

Gen 1: 1-2; Isaiah 11: 2-3; Ecclesiasticus 24.3-9; Proverbs 1:20; 8; 9 and 1 Corinthians 1:30

18 December – O Adonai – O Lord of might

O Lord of Lords, and ruler of the House of Israel, you appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush, and gave him the law on Sinai: come with your outstretched arm and ransom us.

Exodus 3.1-6; Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:6

Dec 19 – O Radix Jesse – O Root of Jesse

O root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the nations; kings will keep silence before you for whom the nations long; come and save us and delay no longer.

Isaiah 11.1-4,10; Romans 15:12; Revelation 5:5

Dec 20 – O Clavis David – O Key of David

O key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel; you open and none can shut; you shut and none can open: come and free the captives from prison, and break down the walls of death.
Isaiah 22:22; Revelation 3:7

21 December – O Oriens – O Dawn

O morning star, splendour of the light eternal and bright sun of righteousness: come and bring light to those who dwell in darkness and walk in the shadow of death.
Numbers 24.15b-17; Luke 1:78, 79; Malachi 4:2

Dec 22 – O Rex Gentium – O King of Nations

O king of the nations, you alone can fulfil their desires: cornerstone, binding all together: come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust of the earth.
Jeremiah 30.7-11a; Revelation 15:3; Psalm 118:22; Isaiah 28:16; Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17; Acts 4:11; Ephesians 2:20; I Peter 2:6

23 December – O Emmanuel – God-With-Us

O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, hope of the nations and their saviour: come and save us, O Lord our God.
Isaiah 7:14; 8:8; Matthew 1:23; Haggai 2:7

Some suggestions for Praying the O Antiphons:

1. Each night my family will gather round the Advent wreath for time of shared reflection, prayer and singing. Beginning with Dec. 17th, we will chant the first verse from “O Come O Come, Emmanuel.” Each day thereafter we will add a verse to our singing so that by the time we reach December 23rd, we will be singing the verses corresponding to each of the O Antiphons.

2. Each day during this period, my family also has a tradition of taking turns in composing prayers of petition that are directly inspired by each of the O Antiphons, which we offer to God on behalf of ourselves, others we know, and the for situations in the world-at-large,

For example, after singing the first O Antiphon and reflecting on its meaning, someone might be inspired to pray in a manner similar to the following:

“O Lord, your Spirit hovered over creation at the beginning of time, miraculously bringing forth this universe by your Word out of the swirls of chaos. We beg that today you once again pour forth your creative Spirit  and holy Wisdom upon humankind so that we might be shown the path to peace and harmony, even as we live in a world torn by strife and violence. Amen.”

3. If you are a little more ambitious, I would share the following idea with you… While doing some research in preparation for today’s post, I serendipitously ran across a wonderful blog site called Everyday Liturgy (which I highly recommend you check out) where its author, Thom Turner, has composed his own paraphrase of the O Antiphons. Like me, I’m sure that you will agree that these are marvelously rich theological meditations.

Here is Mr. Turner’s new translation :

December 17 – O Wisdom (O Sapientia)

O Wisdom, coming to us as the voice of God,
The rushing wind of your voice hovers over the earth,
calling us back to the peacefulness of Eden.
Come now and teach us discernment.

December 18 – O Lord (O Adonai)

O Lord of your chosen people, you have spoken to us
through prophets. Through burning bushes and flaming tongues
you have given us your law: to love God and love others.
Come with your outstretched arms and bring salvation to all.

December 19 – O Root of Jesse (O Radix Jesse)

O Root of Jesse, out of you springs up the kingdom of God.
No other kings or nations have the power you possess,
so they keep silent before you and the witness of your kingdom.
Come with your kingdom now and save us.

December 20 – O Key of David (O Clavis David)

O Messiah, King of the Jews, you have given us the mysteries
of God and taught us the way of your kingdom. When someone
knocks you give to them freely and without reservation.
Come now and free those who are held captive by darkness.

December 21 – O Morning Star (O Oriens)

O Morning Star, bright light, eternal dawn, sun of justice,
shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow
of death; be our guide on the path of righteousness.
Come now and show us the light that brings eternal joy.

December 22 – O King of the Gentiles (O Rex Gentium)

O King of the Gentiles, the object of our desire,
you are the rock on which the church has been built.
You graft your chosen people together in one body.
Come now and save us who are but dirt and clay.

December 23 – O God-who-is-with-us (O Emmanuel)

O God-who-is-with-us, our coming king, composer of justice,
the nations will gather and bow down to you
who will come to judge the living and the dead.
Come now and save us, our God in the flesh.

For your personal time of prayer during Dec 17-23, you might consider doing one of two things:

  • meditate and pray over Thom’s new translation of the O Antiphons, focusing on one verse each day;
  • alternately, after reading his, you could try your own hand at writing a paraphrase for each O Antiphon, much like what Thom Turner has done himself. By doing so, you can overcome the barrier of familiarity by gaining a fresher and, perhaps, deeper insight into the meaning of the O Antiphons.

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I sincerely hope you find the closing days of Advent marked by a spirit of prayer, conversion, and Advent joy! And I am happy that you stopped by my blog!

Maranatha! Come Lord, Jesus! Come!

Tom Webber

Psalm of Icy Awareness

12 Dec

A Psalm of Icy Awareness

The earth around my home
is now locked in a winter wrap
of bone-chilling snow and ice.

Water, once clear and liquid,
a joyous, flowing community,
is now frozen into crystals of ice.

Recently in humanity’s long history
there has arisen an isolation,
a separation of those who share
common human flesh and bone.

While once upon a time we gathered joyfully
in families, tribes and clans,
we now so often live divorced
from earth and from each other,
with loneliness as our only company.
All isolation is ice-olation,
frigid to human flesh,
cold and lifeless to the touch,
untrue to our most basic unity, community.

And whenever I act single-handedly,
apart from an awareness of my sisters and brothers,
I become a deformed, divine disciple.

And tribeless, O God, how can I tread the path
that you have designed as companion course?
Ah, the wisdom, so divine,
in your Genesis words,
spoken to perfectly made, fully automated Adam,
“It is not good for one to be alone.”

From Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim by Ed Hays

Video Meditation for Advent: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

9 Dec

Please take a moment to settle back and quiet yourself,

recalling God’s ever present love.

 

Set aside all of the cares and concerns of this day.

 

Be in touch with your deep desire for God;

your own deep need for Love, for Grace, for Peace, and for Hope.

 

Pray: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” several times as you breath deeply.

 

Please watch now, with an open heart, a truly inspiring Advent meditation that I found to share with you this day.

 

 

Blessings,

Tom

Advent Reflection: “Alive Again” by Matt Maher

8 Dec

I haven’t been a big fan of what is known in the music business today as “Contemporary Christian Music” (aka CCM)  since after the movement was in its infancy way back in the early through mid-70s. Those early days of what was then referred to as Jesus Music arose as an outgrowth of the so-called Jesus People movement (basically a Christian  evangelical movement among newly converted hippies), and there were several young artists and groups that I listened to and found spiritually uplifting. These included the likes of Larry Norman, Barry McGuire, Mustard Seed Retreat, Love Song, Randy Stonehill, The Talbot Brothers (brothers John Michael and Terry Talbot), Malcom and Alwyn, Honeytree, Andre Crouch and the Disciples, and Richie Furay. As this movement “progressed” in instrumental sophistication, I found that I didn’t have a stomach for the later CCM music which, lyrically, began to sound like “Christian bubblegum.” I also came to a point where I had grown past the fundamentalism that characterized most of the artists. In any case, I still have a place in my heart for much of the music I heard back then.

This brings me to today’s Advent reflection… A little over year ago I stumbled across this song “Alive Again” by a somewhat younger contemporary Roman Catholic artist named Matt Maher and was deeply moved by it. (At the time I was searching for an appropriate tune that I might do for one of our school liturgies at St. Thomas More, a Catholic high school where I was then teaching theology.) Now that we are in the midst of Advent, it struck me that, while not written for this expressed purpose, the song “Alive Again,” replete as it is with Advent themes such as light and darkness, longing for God, hope, redemption, and grace, this song is a perfect source for Advent prayer and reflection.

Please sit back and enjoy this video of “Alive Again” before you continue reading below. Lyrics for the song are included in the video itself:

 

A prayer reflection:

During this season of Advent, I am reminded that even in the midst of winter darkness, be it a feeling of existential alone-ness,  or that of an acute, personal awareness of the darkness of the world at large so often bereft of love, that GOD IS HERE, silently reaching out with the offer love, grace and redemption. Whether I am simply stealing away right now for a moment of quiet solitude and prayer, or if I am feeling uncomfortably alone now, shouldering some heavy burden, perhaps even despairing of God’s absence, God is right here now waiting — waiting with the patience of eternity. That movement of longing and desire that is in my heart now is the sacrament of God’s loving presence, as is the very movement of my breathing, an act of which I rarely conscious. Like the ever present rhythm of my breath, your Spirit, your RUAH, O God, is my ever present, silent partner, bringing me life. Your light slowly shatters my darkness, just as the first faint rays of sunlight bleed through and dispel the long night. For this I thank you, even as I await the fullness of of the coming of your kingdom. Amen.

Late have I loved You
You waited for me
I searched for You
What took me so long?

I was looking outside
As if love would ever want to hide
I’m finding I was wrong


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An important footnote to Matt Maher’s song “Alive Again”…. Matt has shared that his song was inspired to write it after recalling a well-known passage from The Confessions, the spiritual autobiography of the  early Latin church father St. Augustine. St. Augustine (354-540) became a convert to Christianity after years of earnestly searching for truth and the meaning of life, being schooled as he was in the best of Greek philosophy at the time. Matt Maher is briefly alluding to the following passage that Augustine eloquently wrote concerning his own realization that his own desperate search for God, and his later falling in love with God, was itself precipitated by God’s loving grace. All is gift, all is grace.

Here is that passage:

Late have I loved you,

Beauty so ancient and so new,

late have I loved you!
Lo, you were within,
but I outside, seeking there for you,
and upon the shapely things you have made
I rushed headlong – I, misshapen.
You were with me, but I was not with you.
They held me back far from you,
those things which would have no being,
were they not in you.
You called, shouted, broke through my deafness;
you flared, blazed, banished my blindness;
you lavished your fragrance, I gasped; and now I pant for you;
I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst;
you touched me, and I burned for your peace.

When at last I cling to you with my whole being there will be no more anguish or labor for me, and my life will be alive indeed, alive because filled with you. But now it is very different. Anyone whom you fill you also uplift; but I am not full of you, and so I am a burden to myself. Joys over which I ought to weep do battle with sorrows that should be matter for joy, and I do not know which will be victorious. But I also see griefs that are evil at war in me with joys that are good, and I do not know which will win the day. This is agony, Lord, have pity on me! It is agony! See, I do not hide my wounds; you are the physician and I am sick; you are merciful, I in need of mercy.
Is not human life on earth a time of testing? Who would choose troubles and hardships? You command us to endure them, but not to love them. No-one loves what he has to endure, even if he loves the endurance, for although he may rejoice in his power to endure, he would prefer to have nothing that demands endurance. In adverse circumstances I long for prosperity, and in times of prosperity I dread adversity. What middle ground is there, between these two, where human life might be free from trial? Woe betide worldly prosperity, and woe again, from fear of disaster and evanescent joy! But woe, woe, and woe again upon worldly adversity, from envy of better fortune, the hardship of adversity itself, and the fear that endurance may falter. Is not human life on earth a time of testing without respite?
On your exceedingly great mercy, and on that alone, rests all my hope.

From The Confessions of St. Augustine

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If you would like to watch a video of Matt Maher sharing his own personal account of the story behind his song “I’m Alive,” you can view it on YouTube right here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OyBkwpsAb4Q&feature=related

Advent Resource: Feast of St. Nicholas, Dec. 6th

7 Dec

Icon of St. Nicholas by contemporary artist James Christensen

As most people know, our modern figure of Santa Claus had a real life inspiration in the 4th century saint, St. Nicholas of Myra. Myra, where he was born, was a busy port city on the Mediterranean Sea, helping to link Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Nicholas came from a wealthy family with parents who taught him to be generous to others, especially the poor and needy. He later came to be ordained a priest. Then one morning, after the bishop of Myra had died, many local people were gathered praying in the village church for a sign to help them discern who should be the next bishop. Divine inspiration told them that the next priest to enter the church should be ordained . This was Nicholas, who became bishop by popular acclamation, as was the custom of the times. Many stories are told of St. Nicholas’ holiness and generosity, including miracles he is said to have performed.

The Story of the Three Impoverished Daughters

One such story depicting the generosity of St. Nicholas concerns a rich man in Myra who had lost all of his money when his business failed. This man had three lovely daughters who all wished to get married. Unfortunately, the father had no money to offer as a dowry.  Without a dowry, the daughters were doomed to be lifelong spinsters, or even worse, subject to being sold into slavery.

The father felt that he was a failure. Desperate to provide food for his family, the man decided to sell one of his daughters into slavery, hoping that they other two would survive.

 

The night before his first daughter was to be sold, St. Nicholas took a small bag of gold into his hand. Then after quietly approaching their house in the darkness, tossed the gold into the house through an open window, and then quickly vanished.

The next day, the father found the bag of gold which had fallen into one of his stockings* hanging next to his bed. He had no idea where it came from. At first he thought that it must be counterfeit, but once he tested it and found out that it really was gold, he set about pondering which of his friends or relatives could have done such a thing. He decided that none of them could have possibly have given this to him.

The poor man fell to his knees and great tears came to his eyes. He thanked God for this beautiful gift. His spirit rose again to new heights of gladness as he quickly set to arranging a wedding for his first daughter. As it turns out, there was enough money not only for her dowry, but for he and the rest of his family to live for a year. But he often wondered who had given them the gold!

After a year had gone by, the father once again found himself broke. Desperate and distraught, he decided that his second daughter must be sold into slavery. Once again, Nicholas, upon hearing of the father’s plight, once again came to the house by night and tossed in another bag of gold. The next morning, the father rejoiced and thanked God as he once again found the gold. The father also begged God’s forgiveness for losing hope. But he was once again left to ponder what mysterious stranger gave him such a gift?

The man kept a vigil by the window for many nights after this, hoping to catch his benefactor, but to no avail. And so he arranged another joyous wedding for his second daughter. Once again, after a year, his money ran out and he found he and his last daughter in poverty.  In the dead of one night, the father heard steps outside of his house and a bag of gold being tossed through the window. He quickly rushed out to see who had thrown it there and discovered the saintly bishop walking away in the dark. After catching up with St. Nicholas, he recognized who his benefactor had been all along.

“Why did you give me this gold?” the father asked?

“Because you needed it,” answered Nicholas.

With tears in his eyes, the father embraced the bishop and thanked him. But he asked, “Why did you not tell us who you were?” “Because it is good to give  and have God alone know about it.”

*This lovely story seems to be the origin of putting stockings out to be filled with goodies and toys, be it on Christmas and/or the feast of St. Nicholas. Also, some versions of the story tell of the gold landing in shoes instead, which explains why many put shoes out instead.

The Legend of St. Nicholas and the Evil Butcher

There is a story, or rather legend, that is told about St. Nicholas, helps to explain why he has traditionally been viewed as the patron saint of children. The story of “The Evil Butcher” can be found in several forms, but the most intriguing is the story as it is popularly told in France. This version, dating apparently from the middle ages, is rather gruesome, sounding an awful lot like one found in a collection of fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm. Below is a short form of this story that I found:

Nicholas Saving 3 Children from the Evil Butcher

Three little children sought the plain
Gleaners of the golden grain.
They lingered past the angel-song,
And dewy shadows swept along.

‘Mid the silence of the wood
The butcher’s lonely cottage stood,
“Butcher! lodge us for the night,
Lodge us till the morning light.”
“Enter in, ye children small,
I can find a place for all.”

The butcher seized a knife straitway,
And did the little creatures slay.
He put them in a tub of brine,
In pieces small as they were swine.

St. Nicholas, at seven years end,
His way did to the forest wend.
He sought the butcher’s cottage drear:
“Butcher! I would rest me here!”

“Enter! enter, St. Nicholas!
You are welcome, St. Nicholas!
Enter! enter, St. Nicholas!
There’s place for you the night to pass.”
Scarce had the Saint his entrance made,
He would the supper board was laid.

“Will you have of ham a slice?”
“I will not, for it is not nice!”
“Of this veal you’ll take a bit?”
“No! I do not relish it.”

“Give me of the little swine,
For seven long years have laid in brine!”
The butcher caught the words he said,
And forthwith from the portal fled.

“Butcher! butcher! do not flee,
Repent and God will pardon thee!”

St. Nicholas the tub drew near,
And lo! he placed three fingers there.
The first one said, “I sweetly rest!”
The second said, “I too am blest!”
The third replied, “Tis well with me,
In Paradise I seem to be!”

*freely translated from the French by English poet James Henry Dixon (1803–1876)

 

There are dozens of other fascinating stories and legends surrounding the figure of St. Nicholas, many of them truly inspiring. Always they are delightful to read. I would invite and urge you to spend some time at the links and sites available on the internet. Like me, once you begin to do so, you’ll surely find yourself fall in love with St. Nicholas all over again!

The most comprehensive internet site is most certainly one called The St. Nicholas Center. There you will find a massive collection of information about St. Nicholaus, including: historical information and primary documents; stories and customs about St. Nicholas from around the world; online copies of illustrated children’s books; a large collection of religious icons and paintings of St. Nicholas and his life; and dozens of resources for celebrating and teaching about St. Nicholas. And this just scratches the surface! It would take weeks to make your way through everything there.  I certainly plan on returning there often during the remainder of this Advent season.

Here are a few quick links from the St. Nicholas Center that I found intriguing, and I bet you will, too:

  • Because of how large the site is, start at the site map page found here:   http://www.stnicholascenter.org/Brix?pageID=23 . The site is so large and detailed, unless you go to this page, I find that you’ll run the risk of missing much of the fun it offers, especially if you were to rely solely on the side panels for navigation.
  • A large collection of stories, legends and miracle accounts surrounding the life of  St. Nicholas can be found here, including The Golden Legend: http://www.stnicholascenter.org/Brix?pageID=911 .  Many of these are lavishly illustrated, and some are interactive.
  • The Life of St. Nicholas shown in paintings, icons, and frescoes from around the world is found here:    http://www.stnicholascenter.org/Brix?pageID=913
  • For an interactive page for discovering how the feast of St. Nicholas is celebrated with different customs around the world. Almost three dozen different countries are represented. Go here:    http://www.stnicholascenter.org/Brix?pageID=76
  • A collection of online stories, activities, and games for children can be found here:  http://www.stnicholascenter.org/Brix?pageID=166
  • An wonderful collection of articles and prayers to enhance your celebration of this great saint can be found here  http://www.stnicholascenter.org/Brix?pageID=120 and here http://www.stnicholascenter.org/Brix?pageID=1 . One of the articles found there that I especially like include a magical story by the well-known spiritual author Fr. Edward Hayes called The Pay-less Shoe Gift Shop & Hobbit Gifts. Another article I found was a reflection by Orthodox Christian and peace activist Jim Forest on St. Nicholas and the death penalty  called A Saint Who Stopped an Execution.” Once you go there, I’m sure that you’ll find others that appeal to your interests and spiritual needs.

    Banner for St.NicholasCenter.Org (Click me!)


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