26 January 2013

Techie-dummy gets it right

I finally figured out the problem btw my Yahoo email account and Firefox.

I've been faithfully downloading Firefox updates. However, I wasn't installing them. I thought this was being done automatically. Apparently not.

Basically, Yahoo email was constantly changing while my browser was still a dinosaur.

I got Firefox up-to-date and now everything is fine. Even the sign-in bar for HancAquam has re-appeared!

Please resist the temptation to mock my lack of techie awareness. . .when it comes to computer stuff, I believe in magic.

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All over the place this weekend!

Weird weekend for me liturgy-wise. . .

Memorial Mass at Dominic's at noon today.

Confessions and Vigil Mass for an Mens' Emmaus Retreat in Ponchatoula at 7.00pm

Sunday Mass at St Dominic's at 8.00am

Sunday Mass at Our Lady of the Rosary at 6.00pm.  

Starting Monday, Fr. John Dominic Sims (our new parochial vicar) and I will be going over to Our Lady of the Rosary for the 7.00am daily Mass.  Their pastor is on a leave of absence.

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24 January 2013

Knowing ain't loving

2nd Week OT (R)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Why does Jesus command the unclean spirits to be silent about his true identity? You'd think that given his mission to spread the Good News of God's freely given mercy to sinners he'd take all the help he could get. As Mark makes painfully clear, the disciples are not among the Lord's brightest and best—not yet anyway—so they can't be much help at this point. The crowds following him around the countryside (threatening to crush him death) are chasing him b/c they think he's just a healing prophet or an exorcist. The only ones who know much of anything at all about who and what he is are the demons! And Jesus won't allow them to break his cover. Why not? Well, would you want a legion of unclean spirits testifying on your behalf if your worst enemies were accusing you with blasphemy? Sure, the demons know who and what Jesus is, but they cannot serve as witnesses to his mission and ministry. To be a witness for Christ, one must be capable of repenting of one's sins; receiving God's mercy, and following His law of love. This means that knowledge about Christ is not the same thing as following Christ. Knowing about love is not the same as loving. 

The idea that we are made holy by acquiring holy knowledge is an ancient heresy. In the first century of the Church, groups of Christians, the Gnostics, began to teach and practice a gospel not taught and practiced by the apostles. Gnosticism (from gnosis) is a broad descriptive term used to cover hundreds of competing sects that taught that salvation was a matter of knowing the right prayers, the right rituals, and the secret names of helpful divine beings. For the Gnostics, ignorance was damnation, so acquiring occult knowledge meant salvation. In other words, for them, knowing about Christ was sufficient to get a seat at the heavenly table. Following Christ to a bloody Cross was just an allegory or a mystical ritual. Set beside the real gospel of Jesus Christ—repentance, suffering, persecution, and the necessity of sacrificial love—it's pretty easy to see why Gnosticism was particularly popular among the wealthy and the well-educated, among the cultural elites of the early Church. It provided all the benefits of being a Christian w/o any of the painful, sticky, embarrassing, low-brow grubbing that the apostolic faith seemed to preach. Needless to say, like the unclean spirits, the Gnostics were not capable of providing credible testimony to the truth of the Gospel. 

This brings us to the inevitable question: are we/you capable of providing credible testimony to the truth of the Gospel? If you have sinned, have you received God's mercy? If so, have you told anyone about it? If you have suffered, have you received God's healing? If so, have you told anyone about it? If you have sacrificed in love b/c Christ lovingly sacrificed for you, have you told anyone about it? If you have sinned, suffered, and sacrificed and reaped the graces that come with repentance, prayer, and God's love, and you've not told anyone about it, why haven't you? Jesus silences the demons, not you. The Church silenced the Gnostics, not you. Christ tells his disciples many times that it will be as witnesses to his life and work that they will bring many into the family. Of course, knowledge about Christ will be necessary along the way, but what most lost souls need to hear is that being lost is not a permanent feature of their lives. In fact, being lost, being w/o Christ is an unnatural way for a sinner to live. How best to tell others about the Good News? Follow Christ. Publicly. Daily. Out loud. Visibly. And w/o apology, embarrassment, or hesitation. Christ did not silence his faithful people nor will he silence us. With spirits immaculately clean, go, and give the Good News a public witness! 

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23 January 2013

Silence is not the right answer

2nd Week OT (W)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

When given the chance to speak out in defense of their most deeply held convictions, the Pharisees choose instead to play games with a man's life. Jesus calls the man with the damaged hand up before the assembly and asks, “Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?” This is a clever question b/c it forces the Pharisees to consider the consequences of obeying the Law beyond just the repair of a man's hand. In effect, Jesus is asking, “Is it legal for me to save a man' life on the Sabbath, or should I let him die?” To the Pharisees' way of thinking, if saving a life on the Sabbath is a form of work. . .well, they'll have to think about that and get back us. I can't tell you how they answered Jesus' question b/c after he asked it, “they remained silent.” They remain silent while a rabbi violates the Sabbath in the synagogue! What's more important to them: honoring God's Law, or playing gotcha games with an ideological opponent? Jesus knows their hearts, “Looking around at them with anger and grieved at their hardness of heart,” Jesus heals the man. God' love is God's law, so silence cannot be the right answer to the question of sin. 

For most tough questions, silence is almost always the right choice, the prudent choice, but not always. I was once told by a wise and learned friar, “Br. Philip, prudence is the art of knowing when to keep your big mouth shut.” Well, I've never been particularly good at art, or keeping my big mouth shut. I'm not built intellectually to let a challenge go unanswered. However, even with my tendency to imprudence, I recognize the genius of the way Jesus sets up the Pharisees. They have two choices in answering his challenge: 1) admit or deny that the Sabbath Law forbids life-saving work; or 2) remain silent. The first choice either exposes them as heartless, legalistic religious robots; or opens the door for reckless disobedience. Not good P.R. either way. The second choice (silence) leaves them looking slightly foolish but at least they have plausible deniability if someone accuses them of being heartless, legalistic, or reckless. Unfortunately for them, their silence angers the Lord and verifies for us that their hearts have grown hard in following the Law. What this tells us is that there is something more fundamental and vastly more important than the Law: God's infinite love for His creation. Christ is that love given human flesh. He is the promise of God sent to save our lives, the Law fulfilled. 

Neither the Law nor the law can save us; that is, neither the Law of Moses nor the law of man can reach to heaven and heal the wound between God and His creation. However, when a civil law reflects or embodies God's law of love, the edges of the wound can be drawn closer together, if not closed completely. Conversely, if a civil law violates the law of love, the edges of the wound are spread farther apart and infected by sin. When challenged to defend one of their most cherished laws, the Pharisees remain silent. Why? For nothing more than political advantage over an enemy. Their silence is complicity, participation in the violation. When we are challenged to defend God's law of love, our silence—fear, cowardice, or political calculation—is complicity, participation in the legal vandalism of divine love. Man-made law is just when it reflects and embodies God's law of love. However, when civil law demands that we sin, to violate God's law of love, our resounding NO! to that demand ought to shake the earth and rattle some teeth. The Pharisees missed their chance to stand up for their deeply held convictions, selling their integrity for a chance to kill one inconvenient enemy. If we will not stand up for God's law of love, then we become our own enemy for sake of convenience. 

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No such thing as naked being

One of the fundamental metaphysical insights of the Catholic faith is that creation is good, all creatures are good insofar as they exist. This goodness is called ontological goodness and is distinguished from moral goodness

Below is an excerpt from an article by Alice von Hildebrand: 

Genesis informs us that when God completed creation, He saw that “it was very good.” Surprisingly enough, these luminous words can easily be misread or misinterpreted. 

God is clearly telling us that every single being to which He has freely granted “to be” is not only benefiting from the nobility of existence, but moreover that all these beings not only “are” but moreover have qualities and perfections which, according to a huge scale, reflect God’s infinite beauty. A star-studded key awakens in us a feeling of awe, but the most modest insect hidden in the grass, also speaks of God’s glory. 

There is no such a thing as “naked” being. Pure being is an abstraction. Let me repeat: All existing beings have qualities and perfections the scale of which is immense – from the awesome greatness and beauty of a star-studded sky to the modest perfection of a gnat. All of them reflect the greatness and glory of God: “Heaven and earth are filled with His Glory.”

Please, do your growth in holiness a favor and read the whole thing!

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22 January 2013

We are not servants of the Law (or the State)!

NB.  Here's a homily preached in Rome (2010) on today's readings.
2nd Week OT (T): Readings
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
SS. Domenico e Sisto, Roma

By necessity—for the sake of good order and the flourishing of justice—our lives are shaped and guided by laws both natural and man-made. There are limits set by the natural order that define us as human. We cannot violate these limits and remain rational animals. No amount of government intervention, no number of rules or regulations, no army or police force can require us to set ourselves against the laws of nature. Even the attempt is unnatural. The laws we make as social creatures often have less to do with our natural means and ends than they do with our need to express what we perceive to be right and wrong behavior in the community. Sometimes, perhaps more than we are willing to admit, man-made law fails to conform to the natural law, and we are confronted with the possibility of protesting with acts of civil disobedience. A recent example of this emerged in the U.S. With the publication of the Manhattan Declaration. A group of leading Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, and Orthodox church leaders signed this statement , callinig on Christians in the U.S. to stand against the culture of death and prepare themselves for civil disobedience against attempts to further violate the dignity of the human person by the government expansion of abortion rights, euthanasia, genetic manipulation, and the invention of same-sex marriage. These leaders ask Christians to be ready and willing to fight a war against the legal notion that the Pharisees assume when they accuse Jesus' disciples of violating the Sabbath: man serves the law. Jesus' retort sets the bar higher: no, the law serves man. 

Few of us get out of bed in the morning thinking of ways to commit criminal acts. It's safe to say that most of us never give it much thought at all. We are law-abiding citizens here in Italy and in our own countries. We do not seek out opportunities to cause trouble nor do we do out of our way to look for unjust laws. So long as we are left alone to study, pray, enjoy our basic freedoms, and flourish as children of God, we are happy to go along with whatever parliament or Congress orders. As governments grow bolder and bolder in their attempts to infringe on basic human rights through legislation that violates the natural law, our peace with the legal status quo grows more and more uneasy. It may not be inevitable that we find ourselves in jail for civil disobedience but it seems that the chances grow with every time parliament meets. How do we respond? 

Yesterday, in the U.S., Americans remembered Martin Luther King. In 1963, from his jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama, he reminded the Church of her successful witness and current failure: “There was a time when the church was very powerful—in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. . .Small in number, they were big in commitment. . .By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. . .Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent—and often even vocal—sanction of things as they are.” Jesus says to the Pharisees, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.” 

Being just is easy in the absence of challenge. Doing justice in the face of government sanctioned oppression—especially the oppression of our religious freedoms—is difficult at best, impossible if we surrender. Our fight will not be against local politicians but with a universal lie: man serves the law. When the time comes, remember Jesus standing in the field, teaching the Pharisees: “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. That is why the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.” And if he is lord even of the Sabbath, how much more is he our Lord as well? 

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Day of Penance for Abortion’s Violence Against Human Dignity

NB.  I'm teaching most of today at the seminary, so no preaching for me today. . .however, I couldn't let today go by w/o saying or writing something!  So, here's a homily from Jan 22, 2008 for this sad day. . .

Day of Penance for Abortion’s Violence Against Human Dignity (GIRM 373)
Isa 32.15-18 and Matt 5.1-12 (Votive Lectionary nos. 887 and 891)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

It doesn’t take long growing up on a farm to figure out the meaning of the gospel adage: you reap what you sow. We planted melon seeds and melons grew. We planted squash seeds and squash grew. Come harvest time we reaped melons and squash. The connection between planting seed and harvesting the fruit of the seed’s plant is almost too obvious to have a name. “Natural consequence” might work. Or perhaps something less philosophical like “biological process.” Regardless of what we decide to name the connection, the connection is significant not only for planning a useful garden—imagine planting spinach seeds and getting corn two months later!—but it is also significant for us as creatures who live and grow in the image and likeness of our Creator. The seed we sow in the private plots of our own hearts and the seed we sow in the public ground of the “Common Good” will grow to fruition for harvest and that harvest will make its way back to our plates. On this day of penance for abortion’s violations of human dignity, we must ask: are we eating our own condemnation?

We could spend most of today talking the coming financial disaster of Baby Boomer retirement and the lack of younger workers to pay into Social Security. We could talk about how the low birth-rate among the Boomers turned Gen-X into Generation-Narcissist, and Gen-Y into Generation-Entitlement. We could point out that the “freedom of choice” to procure legal abortions and the use of contraceptives have “freed” sex from its reproductive end and given us at least three generations of Americans that are at once obsessed with sex and neurotic about sex to the point of needing professional medical treatment. And we could spend some time talking about how legal abortion has functioned in our national moral calculus as an agent of human degradation, one focused tightly on racial minorities and the poor. This is where we are. Where are we going to be?

The Beatitudes teach us that there is a pattern to justice and peace that begins right where we are. Where we are always results in where we will be. Just look at the text. Blessed ARE they who mourn, for they WILL BE comforted. Blessed ARE the clean of heart, for they WILL see God. All the way through the teaching, Jesus makes the practical, moral connection between where we are with where we will be. Blessed are, blessed are, blessed are. . .will inherit, will be shown mercy, will be satisfied. This is the moral parallel to our sown seed/predictable harvest image.

Fortunately, as moral creatures, we are graced with intelligence and good sense. We are free to change where we are and therefore free to alter where we will be. Isaiah says it plainly, “Justice will bring about peace; right will produce calm and security.” So long as we sow the seeds of narcissism, entitlement, self-righteousness, material convenience, and violence against children and the unborn, we can expect to harvest nothing less than an aggressive contempt for life, an aversion to sexual responsibility and care, and a culture so soaked through with death that it stinks up the heavens. So long as we deny the justice of the most basic human right—the right to live—to our future, we have no future. There is Nothing beyond narcissism; Nothing beyond entitlement; Nothing beyond violence but more violence. We will not be shown mercy; we will not be comforted; we will not be called children of God, nor, for that matter, will we see God.
Our ministry today is penance. And preaching. Who out there doesn’t know that Christ’s peace follows God’s justice? No desert will become an orchard and no orchard a forest if we cannot quench the conflagration that consumes our yet to be born future. There is no soil rich enough to produce a harvest without seed.

* GIRM #373: “In all the dioceses of the United States of America, January 22…shall be observed as a particular day of penance for violations to the dignity of the human person committed through acts of abortion, and of prayer for the full restoration of the legal guarantee of the right to life. The Mass 'For Peace and Justice' (no. 21 of the "Masses for Various Needs") should be celebrated with violet vestments.”

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21 January 2013

To fast, to mourn, to praise

St. Agnes
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

All the commentaries agree: John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are jealous. They have to fast but Jesus' disciples do not. Emboldened by their envy, the fasting disciples ask the Lord, “Why don't your disciples fast?” You see, it's a competition for them. A race to righteousness. Who can fast the longest? Pray the loudest? Give more alms? Apparently, to enter this religious competition, you must be skinny, hoarse, and broke. To win it, you must be the skinniest, the hoarsest, and the most broke. Now, we could shake our heads in pity at such nonsense, or we could give these guys the benefit of the doubt and assume that they are asking a serious question about the connection btw the spiritual practice of fasting and one's growth in righteousness. How are Jesus' disciples managing to grow in righteousness w/o fasting? Jesus' response seems confused: “I'm still with them. They'll fast when I'm gone.” Why does his absence/presence make any difference in the effectiveness of his disciples' fasting? Jesus gives us a clue: he's the bridegroom, thus making the Church his bride. So long as the bride and groom are together, the feast goes on and fasting can wait its turn. 

Jesus knows—and now the disciples know—that he won't be with them for much longer. The groom will leave his new bride a widow. So, the time for fasting is fast approaching. What does it say about the nature and purpose of Christian fasting then that it must wait for the death of Jesus to begin? What do we do when someone we love dies? We mourn, we grieve. Their absence from our lives hurts, and we mark this pain by adding to it the pangs of hunger, of longing and desire. The hungrier we are at the end of our mourning, the more eager we are to celebrate the bounty of the next feast. Since the next feast for us is the Feast of Heaven, we fast here on earth to mark, to mourn the death of Jesus just as his earliest disciples did. But we also eat and drink to celebrate his resurrection from the tomb and ascension into heaven. One day we feast, another day we fast. So we might say that our growth in holiness toward perfection is a life-long cycle of feasting and fasting, marking, as Christ himself did, his time among us and his all-too-soon passing away. Think of the Eucharist: we fast before feasting, mourning for a little while before rejoicing that he is among us once again! 

Fasting—tempering our appetites—is a discipline, a disciple's routine for teaching, for training the heart and mind to remember, to recall over and over again what it means to be humble before the loving-care of a loving God. Constant feasting can feed pride: I have enough, more than enough, and I want more b/c I deserve it. Constant fasting can feed pride as well, the pride of false humility: I am deprived, more than deprived; I am so small, inferior, insignificant that I don't warrant God's attention. We can discipline our appetites to the point where we are no longer seeking and receiving from God all that He wills to give us. How can you grow without being fed? How can you participate in the mission of Christ if you cannot believe that you have been made worthy to receive your inheritance? Long practice and many wise men and women have taught the Church the wisdom of fasting and feasting, never just one or the other, but both together, always together. And whether you are feasting or fasting, make certain that at the center of your mourning or your celebrating is gratitude. Feasting without thanksgiving is just eating. Fasting without praising God for His blessings is just dieting. 

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20 January 2013

But are YOU ready?

2nd Sunday OT 2013
Fr. Philip Neri, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

The Wedding Feast at Cana! A fairly straight-forward miracle story set in a little town outside Nazareth. This wedding party would do New Orleans proud. There's food, wine, guests, wine, dancing, singing, and wine. All they need is Bingo and a cash bar for this to be an exemplary Catholic wedding party. Of course, the wedding at Cana isn't a Catholic wedding. How do we know? The host runs out of wine. Fortunately, for the wedding guests, both Mary and Jesus are on hand. Mary approaches her son, and says, “They have no wine.” Jesus responds, “Woman, how does your concern affect me?” Every time I read this, I cringe. Being a good southern boy, if I called my mama “woman,” I'd regret it. . .after I woke up. Bravely, Jesus continues, “My hour has not yet come.” How is this an excuse not to help the host with his wine shortage? Well, it's not an excuse. But it is a good reason. Jesus' “hour” is the hour of his death. The second he reveals his power as the Christ, the countdown clock starts ticking. Is he prepared to reveal himself and start his long, painful walk to the Cross? Are his disciples ready to follow? Are you? 

We know the rest of the story. Jesus changes six jars of water into wine. The head waiter is impressed and compliments the groom for serving his best wine last. About this miracle, John writes, “Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs at Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory. . .” Changing water into wine is just the beginning, the first among many signs that reveal the glory of Christ. Though this story seems straightforward enough, there are a few odd moments that deserve attention. If his hour had not yet come, why did he perform a sign that would start his clock ticking? A clue to answering this question comes in the last bit of the reading. John writes that Jesus performs this sign to reveal his glory and b/c of the sign “his disciples began to believe in him.” If his disciples “began to believe in him,” then we have to think that they didn't believe in him before he performed this miracle. Setting aside for a moment how you can be a disciple and not believe in your teacher, what does it say about the disciples that it takes a miracle to get their attention? Just how hardhearted are they? How closed minded do you have to be not to believe in a teacher you've freely chosen to follow? Maybe they believed him but were not ready to follow him to the Cross? 

Here's a question for you: how do you prove that you really believe something? For example, if you say that you believe in God, how do I know that you believe in God? If belief is just a matter of saying or thinking, “I believe X,” then I have to believe that you believe. But what if belief required more than just a matter-of-fact assertion? What if belief required both a matter-of-fact assertion about belief AND a demonstration of belief? In other words, when you say to me, “I believe in God,” my response would have to be, “Oh really? Show me.” What would you do? How do we act out a belief? I know this seems like a weird question to ask, but it's a question that Christians have been asking one another for centuries. During the Roman persecutions of the Church, Christians identified themselves by refusing to offer incense to the statues of the Emperor. Christians serving in the Roman legions were tortured and executed for treason b/c they would not pledge themselves to Caesar. Martyrdom is possible today in Nigeria, the Sudan, China, North Korea just by going to Mass. In the E.U., you can lose your job, your children, and your business for living the Christian faith. What if belief required you to sacrifice everything, up to and including your life? 

Jesus knew all too well where he was headed. And he knew what would happen to those who freely chose to follow him. He never made a secret of the consequences of believing in him and acting on that belief. He goes out of his way to detail the ugliness that awaits his followers. It's almost as if he wants to discourage people from becoming disciples! Maybe this is why he seems to reply to Mary so rudely, “My hour has not yet come.” Maybe his love for the disciples causes him to hesitate before showing them a sign of his glory as the Christ. Deep down, he wants to spare them the trials of living righteously in a world in rebellion against his Father's rule. Showing them a sign of his glory—like changing water to wine—means moving their hearts and minds from being devoted to him as a holy teacher to following him as their Savior. That's a big move, a Huge Move! A move that will eventually lead all of them to martyrdom in blood and fire. Mary seems to understand her son's hesitation, so she doesn't push him to reveal himself. Instead, she leaves the decision to him, saying to the servers only, “Do whatever he tells you.” And b/c he knows that the mission of the Christ is to die for the sins of the many, he tells them to bring him some water so that he might begin his ministry of signs in Cana. 

Are the disciples ready to follow Christ to the Cross? Are we ready to follow him? That move from being devoted to Jesus as a holy teacher to following him as a Savior is a big move, a huge move. It's the difference btw being a hardworking student of a great teacher and being a fellow-worker in ministry eager to share both his glory and his tribulations. I think most of us are ready to say that we're ready to follow Christ. In theory, the whole scenario looks good, even healthy: repentance, forgiveness, penance, love, mercy, hope, good works, all tied together in the sacraments and supported by a vibrant religious culture. The disciples don't have this kind of external support. They are Jewish heretics. Their religious culture sees them as cultish, separated from family and friends, unclean. Thus they are nearly overwhelmed when the ascended Christ sends the Holy Spirit among them at Pentecost, flooding each one of them with His passionate fire for spreading the Word. In their darkest hour, they are given Divine Love, unmediated by law or prophets, undiluted by age or tradition. We are given this same Love: the Spirit to believe, trust, love, show mercy, do good works, to repent, and grow in righteousness. Like the disciples, we too come to believe and believe in word and deed. 

Our challenge as faithful followers of Christ becomes clearer and clearer every day. It's not our mission to defeat the world with holiness. The world is already defeated. It's not our mission to save the world with prayer. The world is already saved. It's not our mission to bring justice and peace among the nations through our good works. That's done too. Our mission is to live our lives as witnesses to all that has already been done by Christ. Live holy lives b/c the world is defeated. Live prayerful lives b/c the world is saved. Live lives doing good deeds b/c Christ's justice and peace lives already in us. We live lives of holiness and prayer, and doing good works not to change the world but to show the world all that has already been done for it. Christ gives one sign after another that shows his glory and the glory of the Father among us. All we can do is point to that glory with word and deed, and urge the world, “Do whatever he tells you.” That's enough to get us close to the Cross. But to get all the way to the Cross, we must be ready and willing to sacrifice. . .everything. To show the world the glory of Christ, we must believe—word and deed—and be ready to die for love. 

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