Jesus: A Pilgrimage: December-January Selection

Imagination is a powerful and creative human faculty. Ancient thinkers likened the imagination to a wax tablet. It is malleable. One’s experience can press upon the imagination and engender imprints, which one can shape further in reflection. Within our own tradition, the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius represent a guide for Catholic Christians to meet God, particularly in the events of the life of Christ, in and through their imagination. This is an essential insight of the first Jesuits—contemplatives in action: God meets us in our imagination; God can reveal Godself vividly in the human imagination by the workings of the Holy Spirit. God can shape our imaginative impressions just as we can form and shape our own. This is graced contemplation. Such prayer is based upon the a clear principle that underpins the Spiritual Exercises:

While one is engaged in the Spiritual Exercises, it is more suitable and much better that the Creator and Lord in person communicate himself to the devout soul in quest of the divine will, that He inflame it with his love and praise, and dispose it for the way in which it could better serve God in the future. Therefore, the director of the Exercises, as a balance at equilibrium, without leaning to one side or the other, should permit the Creator to deal directly with the creature, and the creature directly with his Creator and Lord (The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Ann. 15).

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The heart and soul of the Exercises is an encounter with Christ. The person praying the Exercises engages in the following two preparations before contemplating the life of Christ. First, one considers the place where Jesus is born or ministers or prays alone—the stable, the rooms, the fields, the lakeside, the din and dust of Jerusalem. One considers sights, smells and sounds. One inserts him or herself in the scene and contemplates the scene’s characters. Second, this is all to pursue the grace that Ignatius aims at:

This is to ask for what I desire. Here it will be to ask for an intimate knowledge of our Lord, who has become man for me, that I may love Him more and follow him more closely (Ann. 104).

Fr. James Martin’s book, Jesus: A Pilgrimage, is both an introduction to and an account of one’s pursuit of the grace of knowing Jesus Christ more intimately in order to conform one’s life to the manifestation of divine love that is the human life of Christ. Fr. Martin’s book employs scripture, imagination, experience, history and place to enliven, enrich and deepen one’s encounter with Christ in prayer. It is his introduction to the Jesus of history, the Jesus of faith, and the Jesus Fr. Martin has encountered in his own imaginative prayer. In fact, Jesus: A Pilgrimage is a longitudinal study of the comprehensive and compassionate love that Martin has experienced throughout his life. The book is also a travelogue of two Jesuit pilgrims visiting the places where scripture tells us Jesus lived, healed, preached, was executed, and rose from the dead.

Fr. Martin begins his account of Jesus’ life at Nazareth where, the Gospel of Luke tells us, Mary encountered an angel and cooperated with the divine project of the incarnation. In the lower level of the Basilica at Nazareth, Martin marvels at the inscription on an altar in the Grotto of the Annunciation: Verbum caro hic factum est, that is, “The Word was made flesh here” (33). The hic—the here—of the incarnation fuels Martin’s whole book. It also underscores the mystery of Jesus’ full humanity and his full divinity. Jesus: A Pilgrimage is essentially a contemplation of this mystery in the here—the hic—of where it happened.

Throughout the book, Fr. Martin examines scripture, offers insights from years of spiritual direction, and synthesizes a great deal of modern scholarship on the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith. He considers why scholars might understand the incarnation as a “scandal of particularity,” and Jesus’ childhood and adult life as “insufferably ordinary,” while the works of his public ministry are “irritatingly unique.” Martin introduces the reader to the depths of this mystery and how imaginative contemplation on Jesus’ humanity and the hic-ness of our God can change us.

Two major insights arise in Martin’s consideration of the life of Christ through his pilgrimage to the Holy Land. First, in describing both Jesus’ call of Peter and the healing of the Gerasene demoniac, Martin helps us realize that any conversion or healing brought about by God involves inclusion in and restoration to a community. Grace orients us outward, and the most miraculous actions of Jesus Christ—including the resurrection—are oriented toward community and fuller union with the Triune God. Second, as Martin writes in several ways, “God craves our honesty” (300). Imaginative prayer is not fantasy. It is a hic, a space, where one can be open and honest with God and where God can be honest with us. In his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus honestly agonizes over the emotional and physical suffering that he will undergo in his execution. Here, in the Garden, Martin offers a further insight about the incarnation. In Christ’s agony, “The human person is united with the divine will, and the divine one expresses human emotions” (362). Jesus entered honestly and comprehensively into our human experience. Our God opened himself up to the full range of human experience from birth to work to travel and suffering and death. Martin’s exploration of the places where God took up this full human experience only serves to enrich the interaction with God that Ignatius writes about in Ann. 15: the Christian God meets us—interacts with us—directly in our lives and in our prayer.

The Catholic Book Club selects Fr. Martin’s book to begin a consideration of several books on Jesus in the next several months. We will reflect on what modern scholars and writers think of Jesus as they attempt to relate his life to our lives some two thousand years later. The Book Club will advertise a list of its selections in the coming weeks. In the meantime, please read Fr. Martin’s book and consider joining a conversation about it. Below are some questions to ponder:

 

·      What place or space has provided you the richest experience of God in your life? Was it a shrine or a street corner? Where have you had the fullest experience of the incarnation of Jesus Christ? Or, where do you continue to go in order to gain a fuller experience of Christ?

·      Where do you go in scripture to experience Jesus? What passages do you visit time and time again? Which passages in the Gospels are stumbling blocks to your contemplation?

·      How do you employ your imagination in prayer?

 

Post Scriptus: Inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Fr. Martin describes a man in front of him in line to visit the tomb of Jesus who was continuously checking his smartphone. Instead of checking messages, he was playing video games. The truly secular and human meet the divine in places that mark the events of Jesus’ human life. Fr. Martin’s book triggered several memories of my own trip to the Holy Land in 2012.

In the summer of 2012, I was able to travel to the Middle East for seven weeks. I spent a month living in Beirut, some days in Amman, and two weeks in Jerusalem. I had signed up for an Arabic immersion course sponsored by the largest Jesuit community in Beirut so that I could learn more about the region that had so dominated the news during my lifetime. I also wanted desperately to visit Jerusalem. I finally made it to the Holy City at the beginning of August. Like Fr. Martin, the first place that I visited in Jerusalem was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Traveling alone, I made my own itinerary, but each day included time at the Holy Sepulchre. In the afternoons, I would sit across from the tomb and watch the crowd mill about it or fight to get in line to enter the tomb. I watched a peculiar, quite abrasive Orthodox monk scream at people in line and in the tomb itself. I saw folks walking around the shrine with open Diet Coke cans. People ate, argued, pushed and shoved. One afternoon, I saw a fight in the line only a few feet from Jesus’ burial slab. I saw Muslim families, who had traveled to the city to celebrate the last days of Ramadan, run around and eat ice cream as they tried to comprehend the ramshackle interior of this odd Christian shrine. Watching all this unfold before me, I thought that it made absolute sense. For, the slab of stone fifteen feet in front of me marked the place where divinity revealed itself to humanity in what Fr. Martin calls: “the greatest event in history” (410) which conveys “a message of unparalleled hope” (416). It makes sense that humanity is most human before the most sacred shrine in Christianity. Humanity pushes and shoves, fights, complains, and reveals all its pettiness in immediate proximity to the place where the Christian God gently revealed the depth of his love, mercy and peace. Jesus Christ rises from his burial slab as the perfect union of divinity and glorified humanity, the perfect incorporation of the most mundanely human realities into the concern and love of the Triune God. Jesus of Nazareth had risen here.

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Janean Stallman
2 years 9 months ago
I read this book last year, when it was first published. At the time, I was attending an Episcopal Church, even though I was confirmed a Catholic some 20 years ago. Somehow, I never really connected with Catholic Churches as I moved around the country a couple of times. Since my background was in literature, I started a book discussion group at the Episcopal Church. I read Fr. Martin's book at the suggestion of a friend, who was not a Catholic, but I was looking for a new book for my group. After I read this book, I stood up in church and told the congregation that this book had changed my life, and I meant it. The Ignatian spiritual exercises and the way of contemplation in action spoke so personally to me, at a time when I was having financial problems and I needed to take responsible action on my debt. I felt that Fr. Martin's pilgrimage gave me back the "real" Jesus, as he traveled to the different sites and talked about how they affected him. I devoured every word of this book. There were over 20 people who came out for the first class. I also made some power point slides of the paintings that Fr. Martin mentioned and others of the life of Jesus to help with visualization of the different scenes in meditation. Everyone in the class said the same thing, that this book had given them back Jesus. But then, the surprise came: I told the class at the last meeting that I had to go back to the Catholic Church. I didn't understand the feeling that I had because I had never experienced it before, but I believe it was the Holy Spirit leading me. I'm attending my local parish and guess what? The priest there wants me to lead a book discussion group on Fr. Martin's book! We will do it for Lent. I really want to thank Fr. Martin for this wonderful book that has helped me on this spiritual journey.
Andrew Di Liddo
2 years 9 months ago
Janean: Wow! Just Wow. What a terrific post. Your post really struck me. I have not read the book yet, in fact, I just now received an email that it is ready for me to pick up which I will do in a few hours. I had some similar experiences to yours. I came of age during Vatican II so as a teenager, it was a very confusing time for me in our parish for our family. When I left home to go to college I left the church behind. I slowly started coming back to the church about 15 years ago and had a powerful conversion experience which accelerated my return. I went and joined the parish where I was living in Vermont at the time. One of the larger towns in Vermont, I enlisted the support of many in the parish to help me come back to the church and will always be grateful for those who helped. During that first year I prepared to make a confession, the biggest one of my life spanning over 30 years of doing my will instead of His. After this confession with the pastor, He asked me if I would join up with RCIA to help our group leader who was a former Episcopalian who had already been helping me. I stayed in RCIA for 3 years helping and sponsoring but after Easter that first year I felt like I was set adrift with no anchor so I too quickly formed a book group with the approval of the pastor and the participation of so many I had already sought help from in the parish. One lady phoned me at home after announcements appeared in the parish bulletin, recommended some books that she liked, and stated to me that "the Holy Spirit was clearly working in my life" and said she was thrilled to see a man step up to do something new in our parish where women were nearly always the organizers. I called into Johnette Benkovic's show live on the radio and related to her how so many "Women of Grace" were helping me come back to the church. She recommended the seven volume In Conversation with God meditations by Francis Fernandez to help me sync and synergize with the liturgical year. I bought each volume separately to make the acquisition of all seven volumes affordable throughout a year. I met some itinerant Franciscans from Boston on a back road in Vermont and offered them a ride to Boston. As I dropped them off outside of Boston, I asked one of the priests to be my spiritual director which we managed itinerantly over the next couple of years. To answer just a couple of questions that Kevin posted here, one of my most powerful experiences in a place meeting Jesus (actually His Mother) was at the Our Lady of Ephesus House of Prayer in Jamaica Vermont. It is an exact replica of our Lady's home in Ephesus,Turkey and I was so blessed to be part of the Honor Guard with the Knights of Columbus at the opening dedication of this Shrine with the Bishop from Ephesus Turkey who traveled to Vermont to open it. I had been praying the rosary a lot but this being in Mary's home in Ephesus just had a profound effect on me. Marrying the physical of this world with the supernatural is how I try to use my imagination in prayer. I studied the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius as well during this time period. Father Joseph, my director, then began guiding me to the Liturgy of the Hours through the single volume Christian Prayer as an alternative to praying the rosary three times in one day which I had been doing. Of course, I still pray the rosary and use my imagination contemplating the mysteries.
Andrew Di Liddo
2 years 9 months ago
Chapter 1- Preparation and Planning for the Trip....... Fr. Martin describes all hurdles and obstacles just seem to melt away. Things that in his mind he thought could be problematic to the trip go smoother than silk. Isn't this the way things go when we are in accordance with His WILL for us? When things go wrong at every turn, obstacles arise constantly, can this be the way I can know that I am outside of His Will for me? A very simple principle for some, but, has not been so simple for me and taken me a long time to learn. Father Martin describes this principle marvelously. His trip was just meant to be. Amen.
Janean Stallman
2 years 9 months ago
I love the idea of visualizing the scenes where Jesus was walking and talking, and then even being a part of it. It makes Jesus and the setting so much more real for me. I live near a body of water called the "Hood Canal." It's really part of the Puget Sound. I go to the State Park there which is on the water to walk my dog, watch birds, and enjoy the beauty of nature. One day, after I had read Fr. Martin's book, I was sitting there looking for birds, and I decided to try the meditation. I was thinking about the Sea of Galilee, and then I imagined Jesus in a boat on the Canal, and he stood up and motioned to me and said, "Come, follow me." That was all, but it was a start. I took that moment to the discussion class and told them about it. In hindsight, I think that was the start of my returning to the Catholic parish. It was definitely that beginning of a spiritual connection that I needed in my life.
Sara Damewood
2 years 9 months ago
That's a powerful image, Janean. Thanks for sharing!
Andrew Di Liddo
2 years 9 months ago
GOD BREAKS INTO OUR LIVES Reading Now Father Martin describing the Annunciation, God "breaking into" Mary's life. He writes that God draws near and we become afraid. He writes that Mary is "greatly disturbed". He then internalizes this and writes that God Breaks into our Lives. Father Thomas Dubay, in his series on contemplation, calls this the "Divine Invasion". Father Martin .writes that something, some awareness, some insight comes to him: " I could not have come up with this on my own." JESUS describes the same phenomenon: Jesus to the Apostles: "Who do people say that IAM?" Apostles respond to Jesus: "Some say you are Elijah, .... etc. etc." Jesus to Apostles: "BUT! Who do YOU say that IAM?" Peter to Jesus: " You are the Messiah" Jesus to Peter: " No man on earth could have told you this...this was revealed to you by the Father, MY FATHER, Our Father, Your Father".... The Father has broken into Peter's life through this revelation and Peter is elevated, promoted, set aside, anoint ed, become the rock the Church is built on, is given the keys.... The process that Father Martin describes has been described by Jesus Himself!
Andrew Di Liddo
2 years 9 months ago
JORDAN Mystery of the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River - a luminous mystery A stumbling block for some but why not me? People get hung up on Jesus being baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist? If Jesus is free of sin, why does he NEED to be baptized? Easy Answer: He doesn't. Father Martin asks us to imagine Jesus as a human being and as God. As human being, Jesus is walking along the bank of the Jordan River, sees a crowd of people and they are being baptized by his cousin, John the Baptist. Jesus and John the Baptist are very close in age. As humans, aren't we thrilled to see or run into our cousins and don't we cherish the time we spend with our cousins? As a child, every Sunday was spent at Grandma and Grandpa's house after Mass with Aunts, Uncles and cousins under one roof. Some of my most cherished memories as a child was time spent with my cousins on those Sundays. Thus, it seems perfectly natural to me for Jesus to "stop by" to visit his cousin in the river. COMMUNICATION BETWEEN JOHN AND JESUS One of my favorite portrayals of this event is the movie "King of Kings", with the actor Jeffrey Hunter playing Jesus and John the Baptist played by Robert Ryan. There is a close-up of John and Jesus's eyes meeting and looking into each others' eyes. It is quite easy for me to imagine that Jesus, who is love personified, loves his cousin very much. Remembering also, that John leapt in his mother's women womb, when Mary pregnant with Jesus approached John's mother, Elizabeth; clearly not only a human connection but a supernatural one as well. As God, Jesus knows all about John and what will happen to him. Jesus cherishes John. Jesus stopping by the river is Jesus saying as human: "thanks cousin, what you do, did and will do is beneficial to the Kingdom". Jesus knows this but maybe John as human needs to "hear it". Of course, these words are not in scripture, but, many of us can imagine situations when we were with close cousins that we communicated with them without words. John has followers and disciples. Think of John and Jesus humanly as "neighborhood leaders". Jesus is saying to John, again without words to his cousin: "some of your people are going to be leaving you and joining up with me, do not be mad at them or me, this is the way it is supposed to be, I pray you are OK with this ". Maybe I am looking at this too superficially instead of theologically, ecclesiastically and sacramentally? After Jesus walks into the Jordan, does the water become Holy Water? Is there a difference between the people baptized there after Jesus departs, as opposed to those who were baptized before he entered the Jordan?
Janean Stallman
2 years 9 months ago
Andrew, I love your questions. They suggest to me that you are using the Ignatian imaginative contemplation to put yourself into this baptismal scene. As far as I can glean from scripture, Jesus takes up his mantle after John has been imprisoned and beheaded. Perhaps, he has been following John for some time, even learning from him. Because Jesus, as a human, grows spiritually as he matures. I don't think he just wakes up and says, "I'm God, I know what I'm doing." I think he understands his mission on earth as he prays and the events play out. But, John does seem to know that Jesus is very special and that Jesus will do what he cannot do. There is a relationship between them that is spiritual as well as a kinship. If we can imagine them as children, they might have played together and John, being older, would have been the natural leader. But, he might have marveled at Jesus's insight, and his questions. John would have known that Jesus was going to take over where he left off. But the recognition of the Holy Spirit when John baptized Jesus, was his confirmation. Your questions about the water in the river Jordan are really thought-provoking. I can only answer with another question: If you were to bathe in the Jordan, would you think it Holy Water? I wonder if Fr. Martin did? My guess is that he did feel that the water was holy, but then, isn't the water everywhere holy because it is necessary for life? When I imagined Jesus on the Hood Canal, that was a holy place.
Kevin Spinale
2 years 9 months ago
Ms. Stallman, Contemplation of place is essential to Ignatian prayer. I think Fr. Martin and other pilgrims feel the proximity of Christ in the water of Galilee and the River Jordan. The incarnation becomes a bit more apparent, more palpable. Perhaps, along these same lines, one of the essential realities of Christian life is that Jesus was also human - not embodied god, but human. His humanity has shown the dignity of my own human life. Just as Jesus sanctifies water by his presence, Jesus has sanctified human life by his willingness to take on our nature - perhaps a mystery even more difficult to contemplate than the resurrection.
Kevin Spinale
2 years 9 months ago
Mr. Di Liddo, There is a wonderful theological meditation on the baptism of Jesus in Question 39 of the Tertia pars of Aquina's Summa. Thomas argues that Jesus does indeed, by his baptism, sanctify the water in which we too are baptized. He also argues - as does the portrait of St. Paul in Acts - that those baptized by John need to be baptized again. What distinguishes the Baptism of the Christian community from that of the followers of John the Baptist is the presence and power of the Holy Spirit that unites us with Jesus in his death and resurrection. I do not think that you are looking at this meaningful event in the life of Christ too theologically. Indeed, theology can and should enrich our imaginative prayer and our encounter with Christ.
Sara Damewood
2 years 9 months ago
Andrew, I can just imagine Jesus communicating those sentiments to John. I don't think it's superficial at all. Great use of Ignatian imaginative meditation! That's not to say that theology can't also enrich our understanding of the Gospels.
ELIZABETH MALONE
2 years 9 months ago

The older I get the more I appreciate the kind of “divine invasion” that comes only over the long haul. “Divine encroachment” would be more descriptive of what I have in mind. It seems most of our encounters with the divine as we raise our children, transpire too deep and silently to notice. Yet when we look back, we know there was something going on more luminous and lasting than the family chronicle of events. Now that I think about it, this may have been a significant thread of meaning in our previous book club selection—a novel that frankly stumped me in its portrayal of one family’s totally unremarkable story.
The angels told Mary and her betrothed that her son was bound for a singular destiny. I don’t know about the Holy Family’s time, but these days don’t we all believe this of our children? I think when we care for our families there is another present whose life in this world is also influenced by the quality of our care.
Lately I’ve also been asking myself what I would know about the dignity of those who hope when there is no hope or the transcendent heroism of the utterly desolate if I had not stumbled into a career that brought me in daily contact with the least among us. Much as we depend on God to care for us on our personal journeys, it seems he also depends on us, in a way, to take good care of him in the persons of the weak, the broken, the feeble and the just plain dumb.
I’m afraid I must emphatically answer “no” when Andrew wonders if smooth sailing is a sign of being in accord with God’s will for us. I believe untold blessings have come to us through people who have persisted in their strivings despite obstacles and challenge. If there were no obstacles to struggle with what would be the meaning of commitment, faithfulness, endurance, creativity? Who would our saints and heroes be? Would we even have a measure for the reliability of our love? And--devoid of adversity, how boring would life be? One of my favorite scripture passages is from Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. For me, it has often been like a bridge over troubled waters.

Kevin Spinale
2 years 9 months ago
Ms. Malone, Greetings. I think your sense of living a life of discipleship is quite right. Consolation and desolation mark our spiritual lives, and our experience of Christian living mirrors the liturgical year: the waiting of Advent, the joy of Christmas, the repentance of lent, the sadness of Holy Week, the glory of Easter and Pentecost, and the ordinariness of ordinary time. As we look back upon our life comprehensively, we can identify times that resemble seasons during the liturgical year. The insight oriented toward a comprehensive view of our own lives as well as the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is quite rich.
Sara Damewood
2 years 9 months ago
Elizabeth, I've had a similar career with the "least" among us and can relate to your thought that God seems to depend on us to care for Him by attending to those anawim. I've also had my own experience of "divine invasion/encroachment," which I think I'll share after coffee tomorrow morning!
Sara Damewood
2 years 9 months ago
Like the healing of the paralytic man in Luke 5:19, author Fr. James Martin (Fr. Jim, as many of us call him) helped lower me through the roof of a house of spiritual exploration “into the middle of the crowd, in front of Jesus.” He wasn’t the only one to help my faith journey, but he has been my most helpful guide and mentor. His book “Jesus: A Pilgrimage” is the latest in a series of resources for my growth. I’m going to touch on the questions you have posed, Fr. Spinale .Pardon my lack of attention to writing good prose. I’m very busy things with other things right now. Raised Catholic, I earnestly sought God through my teen years until my logical mind led me to reject Catholicism in college and become a Unitarian Universalist for most of my adult life. This led to many paths (described and validated so well in Fr. Jim’s book “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything.” At first, my creed was “You count your blessings, and you carry on;” the Mystery of creation was vast and incomprehensible, and I thought we are simply blended back into God at our deaths. I don’t think I ever stopped believing in God. I also dabbled in Buddhist meditation, which was helpful in developing mindfulness and (later) Yoga meditation, which caused me to imagine this life is simply a dream and we eventually wake up to God. I followed Thomas Jefferson’s Jesus, the teacher. However, there was a yearning for something more. I discovered the writing of the late Marcus Borg: “Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time” and “Reading the Bible Again for the First Time.” As I was seeking Jesus, Fr. Jim’s “Jesuit Guide” practically fell off the shelf into my hands. Ignatian Spirituality, Fr. Jim’s Gospel tweets, attending Mass again…. all nurtured my faith. So, by the time “Jesus: A Pilgrimage” was released, I was already accepting the “Christology from above.” Along with the “Christology from below,” this made “Jesus: A Pilgrimage” such a wonderful experience… following Fr. Jim through the Holy Land. I have his photo of the Sea of Galilee as my desktop background, and I daily walk with Jesus along the shores of that “pale, blue sea” where Jesus said “Follow me.” I’ll be enjoying repeated visits to the audiotape of “Jesus: A Pilgrimage” for many years. If I had to pick a favorite chapter from the book, I would choose “Happy.” Ignatian Spirituality has caused me to go beyond a focus on “how can I do God’s will?” to “What do I desire from God?” The beatitudes effectively incorporate both. I can just imagine standing near Jesus at the Mount of the Beatitudes, feeling so close to God in Him…. and embracing humility and service. Fr Jim put it so well: “The Beatitudes are a vision not only for the end times or for society, but for us. We become who Jesus hopes us to be, as a people and as individuals. So we are blessed.” It is wonderful that you will be featuring books on Jesus in your book club. I’m sure there are many good scholarly works by experts in the field. At the same time, I challenge you to find a book that appeals to the heart and soul like “Jesus: A Pilgrimage.” That would be an accomplishment indeed.
Janean Stallman
2 years 8 months ago
I do so much enjoy and appreciate all the wonderful and insightful comments on this book. My Lenten study class at Prince of Peace will be starting soon to read and discuss "Jesus: A Pilgrimage." Today, as a preview, we listened to part of Fr. Martin's CD where he is talking about the importance of women who were always at Jesus' side, trusting, believing, and supporting him until the end and even after the resurrection. This is the first time I will be facilitating a group discussion with Catholics. I know the book will teach itself, as it has spoken so personally to me. Please hold me and our group in your prayers. Thank you all again.

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