Judge Much?

The theme across today’s First Reading and Gospel could not be any clearer – it’s all about judgment. You could ask Christians and non-Christians alike if it’s right to judge other people and you’d probably get a similar response, something along the lines of, “stop judging, that you may not be judged” (Matthew 7:2). Let’s dive a little deeper, though.

Saint Paul provides a good explanation to the Romans about  what happens when we judge one another. He first starts out by saying that we have no excuses, meaning that there are no good reasons for passing judgment on someone or anyone else. In doing so, we condemn ourselves. Why? Because we often do the very same things – we are human, we are fallen like our brother or sister on whom we are passing judgment. For example, if I judge someone for gossiping about someone else, I am failing to see the beam in my own eye versus the splinter in my brother’s eye (Matthew 7:5) because how many times before have I gossiped? Too many to count. We were not created to be judges of our brothers and sisters. Only God Himself is the just judge. 

As such, God judges based on the actions and decisions of our lives and we ourselves know both the rewards and the consequences. Let me say that again – we know both the rewards and the consequences, primarily, eternal life with God or eternal separation from Him. And, if we know the consequences especially, why do we believe that we will escape God’s judgment? By playing judge, are we considering ourselves better or more important than God? Are we trying to make our own judgment? 

Reading a little further, Saint Paul explains that it’s more than just the simple act of judging another that causes such a problem. Rather, it’s the “stubbornness and impenitent heart” and “those who selfishly disobey the truth.” At face value, those words may seem a little harsh, but if we do a true examination of the depths of our hearts, we can see those seeds in the root of judgment. It’s the stubbornness and impenitence that cause us to forget our own sins, the very same sins for which we are judging someone else. It’s the selfishness in disobeying truth by thinking that we are above God and, therefore, able to pass judgment. 

On a little more personal note, about seven years ago, God completely wrecked me when it came to the beam in my own eye of judging others. When I realized what I had done and the impact it had both on those I had judged and on myself, I wept in repentance. While I am not perfect and I constantly need to remind myself not to judge others, this experience stands in the forefront of my mind even to this day and the conscious effort to not judge others has made a difference in my life. 

“Stop judging, so that you may not be judged.”

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Erin Madden is a Cleveland native and graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville. She is passionate about the Lord Jesus, all things college sports and telling stories and she is blessed enough to get paid for all three of her passions. You can catch her on old episodes of the Clarence & Peter Podcast on YouTube as well as follow her on Twitter@erinmadden2016.

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How Hard It Is To Enter The Kingdom!

**Post for 10-10-2021**

Is it easy to get to Heaven? Does everyone get in, in the end? What does it cost?

These are important questions for framing our worldview, our outlook on life, the way we approach decisions and choices in our daily life. Because if it is easy to get into the heavenly Kingdom, if everyone is admitted in the end, if it costs little, then the little decisions of our daily lives aren’t that important.

If, on the other hand, it is hard to enter the kingdom of God, if it is, in Jesus’ own words, IMPOSSIBLE for human beings to be saved, then we’d better have a good plan.

The Good News is that WE don’t actually need to come up with a plan on our own. Since the beginning, God Himself has had a Plan in place, because “all things are possible for God,” even – especially – things that are utterly impossible for us.

The rich young man has a poor plan. He seems to think that obeying the commandments is enough to get into the kingdom; he may even be asking Jesus the question about what he must do to inherit eternal life so that he can go away feeling justified after declaring that he observes all the rules. But instead he goes away sad, because Jesus tells him there is more. “You are lacking in one thing,” and directs him to sell everything so that he is free to follow Him.

“He had many possessions,” and he was not ready to let go of them. Possessions (material and immaterial) give security, comfort, prestige, even popularity and power. Following Jesus without clinging to stuff requires us to let go of the superficial securities and comforts of our stuff; letting go means trusting Jesus completely, and not our own resources.

Jesus was giving the man the opportunity of a lifetime – to jettison all the stuff he was hanging onto so that his hands would be free to embrace all that the Lord wanted to give him. But he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t let go. So he went away sad.

But there’s still Good News, because the man was not lost forever. Jesus didn’t say, “FAIL! You’ve missed your chance, and now you are forever excluded from the Kingdom.” He never does, because Jesus never runs out of options. The Lord is infinitely creative in opening opportunities for us to see what we are and holding up a vision of what He calls us to be, inviting us to let go of what we think is valuable so that we can open our arms to embrace all He longs to give us.

We can hope that this man who went away sad thought again returned to receive what he was being offered.

And we can too. Missed opportunities are not the end of our story. The Lord is still offering us opportunities to say YES to Him! Today, let’s say YES anew! 

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Kathryn Mulderink, MA, is married to Robert, Station Manager for Holy Family Radio. Together they have seven children (including Father Rob), and four grandchildren. She is President of the local community of Secular Discalced Carmelites and has published five books and many articles. Over the last 30 years, she has worked as a teacher, headmistress, catechist, Pastoral Associate, and DRE, and as a writer and voice talent for Catholic Radio. Currently, she serves the Church by writing and speaking, and by collaborating with various parishes and to lead others to encounter Christ and engage their faith. Her website is www.KathrynTherese.com

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Are You Filled with Plunder and Evil?

In the Gospel reading today, Jesus ate a meal with a Pharisee. When they sat down to eat, Jesus did not go through the washing ritual that was appropriate for Jews of the time, and the Pharisee commented on it. Jesus replied: “Although you cleanse the outside of the cup and the dish, inside you are filled with plunder and evil.”

Could Christ say that to us?

Could Christ look at us and see a washed, well-groomed body that looks beautiful and spotless but one that is filled with bitterness, anger, resentment, or even hatred?

We all feel those feelings at one time or another. People have hurt us. Their actions have left scars. Because of that, we hold onto anger and can’t seem to let it go. It begins to weigh us down. 

Not only does it weigh us down, but it starts to bubble out of our polished exterior. No matter what we do, it comes out—in both little and big ways. Maybe we’re rude to the cashier at the grocery store. Maybe we’re unkind to a coworker. Maybe we snap at our children or spouse. We don’t mean to, but the festering wounds take over.

It’s so difficult to keep this from happening, and some circumstances require us to seek professional help. 

But sometimes we just need to make a conscious decision to clean the inside, to purge those negative feelings, and to forgive. For that’s what it comes down to—forgiveness. Whether we must forgive ourselves or forgive the person who hurt us—or both—we will feel freer, lighter, and more at peace when we let go of those feelings that keep us from being our best selves.

It’s not easy. In fact, forgiveness is really hard! But it starts with small steps. And it starts with the realization that we are only responsible for our behaviors. We can only control what we do. We cannot control the actions of other people.

So today, think of that person (or people) who has hurt you. Take a deep breath and say aloud: “I forgive you.” And try to mean it. It may take days or weeks of saying these words, but you will soon feel the weight lifted.

You can also seek help in the confessional. Speaking with a priest, telling him that you’re holding onto these feelings, seeking his advice and encouragement and asking God for forgiveness can really go a long way toward actually forgiving someone. Tell him you’re having a difficult time. Ask for his prayers.

But most important of all, ask God for His help. Tell Him you want to forgive, that you want all those negative feelings on the inside to be washed away. Tell Him that you are trying to make the inside as clean as the outside. 

God is there with open arms. He will help you. You just need to ask. 

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Susan Ciancio has a BA in psychology and a BA in sociology from the University of Notre Dame, with an MA in liberal studies from Indiana University. For the past 17 years, she has worked as a professional editor and writer, editing both fiction and nonfiction books, magazine articles, blogs, educational lessons, professional materials and website content. Eleven of those years have been in the pro-life sector. Currently Susan freelances and writes weekly for HLI, edits for American Life League, and is the editor of Celebrate Life Magazine. She also serves as executive editor for the Culture of Life Studies Program-an educational nonprofit program for K-12 students.

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More Than a Good Teacher

I have heard people say things like, “I believe Jesus was a good teacher, but not the Son of God.” It certainly sounds diplomatic from the non-believer’s perspective; it’s like saying, “even though I don’t believe in your faith, I acknowledge that it has some good points.” I don’t doubt the person usually means well when saying something like this. Yet, when someone describes Jesus as only a good teacher, the person must set aside much of the Scriptures and Jesus’s teachings, including today’s readings.

Our First Reading is the introduction to the Letter to the Romans. Most of us would probably start a letter to the Romans with something like “Dear Romans” and then get to the point of the letter. Paul, however, takes several verses to expound upon who Jesus is and who we are in relation to Him.

In the Gospel, Jesus Himself discusses how He is greater than prophets and wise men in the past. Further, He calls out those of us who would excuse ourselves from examining our lives in light of His teachings. After all, nonbelievers in the past changed the course of their lives for less.

As the Psalm says, God has made His salvation known. It is not ambiguous, or some kind of secret. To dismiss Jesus as simply a Good Teacher (and nothing more) requires us to ignore a good deal of His teachings. As C.S. Lewis said in Mere Christianity

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell.

Lord, open our hearts to accept Your message of salvation, and help our unbelief!

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J.M. Pallas has had a lifelong love of Scriptures. When she is not busy with her vocation as a wife and mother to her “1 Samuel 1” son, or her vocation as a public health educator, you may find her at her parish women’s bible study, affectionately known as “The Bible Chicks.”

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Saying The Right Thing Is Not Enough

I’m not going to lie, which is good considering I’m writing a reflection on the word of God! I had to look up these verses in the Sacra Pagina commentary. These verses have long perplexed me. Why doesn’t Jesus want the woman to compliment his mother? Jesus loves his mother. As always, there is another layer to his response, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.” (Luke 11:28) Some translations say “keep” rather than “observe” which I prefer as it is more direct and clearer.

It is about what we do. Liking Jesus, thinking he’s a good person, serving him when it is convenient – not enough. Our response, in our day to day living out of his word is what we are to be about in this life. As Christians, we follow Christ. Following though, is not as easy as it sounds, but you know this. The world we live in could be the world Joel prophesied to in the First Reading. “The heavens and the earth quake, but the LORD is a refuge to his people, a stronghold to the children of Israel.” (Joel 4:16b) The world is shaking, down to its core and there will be judgment. But God is our refuge and Jesus leads us to the Father as the Word made flesh. 

We hear the word of God and when we live it out with humility and kindness, fear and trembling, we know the LORD is our refuge. The world calls us to take refuge in it, not God. When I pray about taking refuge, I am often convicted that I try to find meaning in social media or mindless entertainment. Are these pastimes sinful? Maybe. Each of us must answer that for ourselves with the help of the Word we read and desire to observe. 

In the end, and yes, I mean the end end, we will be judged. My desire is to be found blessed that I heard and observed the word of God. That is what Jesus calls us to, not compliments. 

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Deanna G. Bartalini, is a Catholic writer, speaker, educator and retreat leader. She is the founder of the LiveNotLukewarm.com community, a place to inform, engage and inspire your Catholic faith through interactive Bible studies, courses and book clubs. Her weekly podcast, NotLukewarmPodcast.com, gives you tips and tools to live out your faith. At DeannaBartalini.com  she writes about whatever is on her mind at the moment.

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Hearts United In Christ

“And blasphemy, the sin against the Holy Spirit, is the one unforgivable sin…because it comes from closing the heart to God’s mercy which acts in Jesus.” -Pope Francis

Today’s Gospel has always stumped me. Why would the Pharisees think that Jesus, who is driving out demons, is driving out demons through the power of…demons? In response to the Pharisees’ questions and thoughts, Jesus asks them this very question. He tells them that if demons are driving out demons, it means that Satan’s kingdom is divided. Christ says this to emphasize the importance of not dividing the Kingdom of God. When we do things in the name of Christ, we must make sure that what we are doing is in line with God’s will. God wills for us to expand the Kingdom of God and bring more people to Him. We can’t do that, however, if we are not submitting our own wills to His holy will. 

In the Gospel Christ tells us, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” When we are not faithful to the truth of God’s word and when we do not trust His will, we are working against His Kingdom. Our goal should always be to bring more people to know God’s love and mercy. Christ also tells us that when our hearts are not fixed on Him, we are left open to the influences of the enemy. When we guard our hearts against evil, we are more able to open ourselves up to the will of God and put our complete trust in Him. 

May we guard our hearts against evil, and in doing so, may we unite ourselves evermore to the heart of Christ which is love and mercy itself.

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Dakota currently lives in Denver, CO and teaches English Language Development and Spanish to high schoolers. She is married to the love of her life, Ralph. In her spare time, she reads, goes to breweries, and watches baseball. Dakota’s favorite saints are St. John Paul II (how could it not be?) and St. José Luis Sánchez del Río. She is passionate about her faith and considers herself blessed at any opportunity to share that faith with others. Check out more of her writing at https://dakotaleonard16.blogspot.com.

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Tips on the Rosary

“You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God, and what do we profit by keeping his command, and going about in penitential dress in awe of the LORD of hosts?’” (Mal 3:14). So begins our First Reading. When taken figuratively, it can lead to a fruitful reflection on the Holy Rosary on this celebration of Our Lady of the Rosary.

Many of us want to pray the Rosary frequently, but struggle to do so, sometimes out of a similar concern to what the prophet Malachi speaks of here. “What good is it to pray the Rosary? It’s a lot of repetition that I can’t focus on easily, and I’m always failing to pray it when I say I will. What’s the point?”

Often, the Rosary seems like a futile effort, especially for those of us with young children. We try to pray as a family, we try to mediate on the mysteries, but we’re constantly distracted by our children and ourselves. By the time we finish, we realize we’ve been thinking of our laundry list of tasks, about our personal needs, or about something we can’t even remember now. What’s the point if we can’t even focus?

Our Lord gives a direct answer to our question in the Gospel, when speaking of a visit to a friend at midnight. It might seem like a pointless endeavor, showing up at midnight for some bread, expecting your friend to both be awake and be willing to get out of bed to lend you some food. And at first, for the man in the Gospel, it is fruitless. However, Jesus points out the value of persistence: “I tell you, if he does not get up to give him the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence” (Lk 11:8).

Though we may not have the perspective to see the results through our own distractions, the Lord is always listening to our faithful prayers. Every Rosary reaches His ears, and He sees our persistence. 

Of course, it helps to have some practical help in praying the Rosary, too. It’s nice to know that it’s still fruitful, but it would be great if we could experience that fruitfulness personally. The first step here is recognizing that the Rosary is an optional devotion, and as such does not have quite the same fixed character as something like the Bible does. You can add the Luminous Mysteries to the Rosary, as John Paul II did, but you cannot add another book to the Bible.

In fact, the Hail Mary was originally shorter, ending with “the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” The Rosary, too, was much shorter because of it. Then there is the practice of the scriptural Rosary, and the practice of using the mysteries to intercede for specific people or meditate on other moments of Our Lord’s life. Whatever the case, there are many ways to pray the Rosary, and we don’t have to feel bad if one is more fruitful for us than another. The point is to ask for Mary’s intercession and meditate on the mysteries of Our Lord’s life and ministry.

My own experience praying the Rosary (almost) every night with my family has shown me that you cannot expect children to sit perfectly still and levitate while praying it. It’s completely fine if your kids are playing by themselves or with toys while everyone prays. They’re taking in much more than you think.

Whatever the case, Our Lord tells us today that persistence is effective. Even if you’ve been having trouble getting into it, take some time to pick up the Rosary, even just a decade every now and again. While it’s by no means required, it comes with many blessings.

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David Dashiell is a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader based in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area. His writing has been featured in Crisis Magazine and The Imaginative Conservative, and his editing is done for a variety of publishers, such as Sophia Institute and Scepter. He can be reached at ddashiellwork@gmail.com.

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Words Can Destroy

Having worked in and out of the Church for most of my life, I can confidently say that parish and diocese offices are a strange mixing pot of some of the holiest and dangerous conversations. What do I mean by that? I think it tends to happen in any job that we have, but people seem to have a tendency to put others down in a way that is not consistent with what they have done. 

Justice, of course, is that hope that all people will be given what they are rightly due. There is a time and a place in the workspace for people to be justly angry that something did not go well or that someone dropped the ball. But justice does not excuse gossip, talking behind someone’s back, or wanting to hurt someone’s reputation. If you are feeling uncomfortable right now because you know you have done those things at different times, join the club. Part of our fallen humanity is that we don’t so much seek justice, but straight up vengeance. 

This kind of mentality can tear an office space apart and it’s exactly what God warns Jonah about in the reading today. Jonah has this anger that God has not yet destroyed Nineveh. I am sure he even convinced himself that he was justified to ask for wrath and blood. But God very simply and gently reminds Jonah that he has no reason to be angry. God has all the reason to be angry but he perfectly balances justice and mercy. 

I think we can learn from this, especially today where our world seems so divided, and always seek to balance justice with mercy. The Catechism defines justice as “the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor” (CCC 1807). What is every person due no matter what they have done or what sin they have committed? We are all due love, respect, mercy, and the benefit of the doubt. It can be easy to foster anger in our hearts, but God shows us another way. 

Something I have found helpful in this regard is to look at my own faults before I try to tear another person down. That makes it much easier to see the necessity of mercy. The Catechism states “God created us without us: but he did not will to save us without us. To receive his mercy, we must admit our faults. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (CCC 1847). 

Let’s all try to make the active choice this week to pray for those we have spoken badly of, to ask for forgiveness for ourselves, and to pray for those who have wronged us. We don’t want to end up like Jonah after all, face first down the belly of a beast. From all of us here at Rodzinka Ministry, God bless!

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Tommy Shultz is the Founder/Director of Rodzinka Ministry and a content specialist for Ruah Woods, a Theology of the Body Ministry. In these roles, he is committed to bringing all those he meets into a deeper relationship with Christ. Tommy has a heart and flair for inspiring people to live their faith every day. He has worked in various youth ministry, adult ministry, and diocesan roles. He has been a featured speaker at retreats and events across the country. With a degree in Theology from Franciscan University, Tommy hopes to use his knowledge to help all people understand the beauty of The Faith.

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Cuteness & Conversion

And just like that, 8 weeks have gone by and I am back to work. My scheduled C-section went off without a hitch, my baby girl is healthy and I am getting back into the swing of things slowly but surely. It seems like such an overused cliche, but time really does fly. How is it that the hours move forward at a snail’s pace when you are in those last couple weeks of pregnancy, but once the baby is out of the womb it’s like the Indy 500!?

My boys adore their new little sister. They want to kiss her and hold her and run their hands along her silky, soft hair. They want to look at her and be with her and say “cute!” over and over again. Even at her baptism, while my dad (a permanent deacon) was speaking, my two youngest boys were holding her hands and smiling at her and my sister whispered to me sarcastically “They don’t love their sister at all do they?!” It is precious to see how they dote on her.

During maternity leave, I had a little more time to be like Mary in today’s Gospel (I am normally very much a Martha). I had more time to pray and I even read a book! I know I am way behind the 8 ball, but I finally read Abby Johnson’s “Unplanned”. Very appropriate as we are now in Respect Life Month and in the midst of 40 Days for Life. 

Her journey of conversion could be likened to those of the people of Nineveh in today’s First Reading. Just as they put on sack cloth and ashes in repentance, she left Planned Parenthood and went directly to a pro-life agency and began advocating for life. 

Reading her story has reignited my desire to help this cause in any small way that I can. Perhaps I can donate baby items to the local pregnancy center. Perhaps I can commit to an hour of prayer in front of the clinic downtown. Perhaps I can contact my local politicians so they don’t vote to pass a bill that does not protect the lives of the vulnerable…

So my “Mary moments” of stillness and reflection can lead to “Martha moments” of reaching out to others. Reading about others’ conversions can help me consider how I need to change to become more Christ-like. 

And while this mother’s heart has so enjoyed being home these past weeks, I am now called to move forward and onward, to continue ministering to others. Life is full. Life is beautiful. 

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Tami Urcia grew up in Western Michigan, a middle child in a large Catholic family. She spent early young adulthood as a missionary in Mexico, studying theology and philosophy, then worked and traveled extensively before finishing her Bachelor’s Degree in Western Kentucky. She loves tackling projects, finding fun ways to keep her little ones, quiet conversation with the hubby and finding unique ways to love. She works at her parish, is a guest blogger on CatholicMom.com and BlessedIsShe.net, runs her own blog at https://togetherandalways.wordpress.com and has been doing Spanish translations on the side for over 20 years.

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Conversions of Heart

Todays’ readings are so fitting for the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. The Scriptures are wonderful lessons addressing the conversion of the heart.

The First Reading has Jonah not wanting to obey the call of the Lord God. He was pitched into the sea and swallowed and spit out after 3 days of prayer in a whale’s belly.

The Gospel acclamation gives us the new commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you.” The reading from Luke has a law scholar asking, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ reply is the story of the Good Samaritan.

Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone (lovingly known as Francis) was born into what we today would call an upper middle class cloth merchant family. He led a carefree life, enjoyed friends and parties. He wanted to be a knight. He was captured, got ill and was imprisoned for a year during which time he read about the lives of the saints.

When Francis returned home he was not the same person. His spirit was troubled. Things he used to enjoy just didn’t make him happy the way they used to. The conversion of his heart was beginning.

The conversion of the human heart is not a one and done process. As with Jonah, who resisted the call of God more than once, Francis too had to pray and listen for God’s call.

Once Francis of Assisi committed his life to follow the Lord God’s call he immersed himself in the Gospel, taking the Gospel teachings (especially the words of Jesus) to heart and applied them to his life; Gospel to life, life to Gospel. For Francis so loved the Lord. He acclaimed frequently, “My God and my all! My God and my all!”

St. Francis did not have an easy life once he chose to follow his Heavenly Father. He made mistakes, faced many challenges and accomplished many things in his own ‘little’ way by choosing to make his life follow Jesus’ way. He made changes (conversions) to how he dealt with life events, even his thoughts to live out the Gospel in a moment by moment, day by day way.

I have been called to this conversion process too, going from Gospel to life, life to Gospel. I am called to love all as Jesus loves me and as the Good Samaritan loves. I thank my own good Samaritans Mark and Missy who stopped and got me some gas while on their way home from dinner with their grandkids when I ran out on an off ramp on my way to get gas last weekend.

Lord, my God and my all, help me to listen to your will in my life. Help my heart to be like Jesus’ and Francis’ heart. Help me to see Your face in every part of the world and my life. Amen.

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Beth Price is part of the customer care team at Diocesan. She is a Secular Franciscan (OFS) and a practicing spiritual director. Beth shares smiles, prayers, laughter, a listening ear and her heart with all of creation. Reach her here bprice@diocesan.com.

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