Archives for the month of: July, 2014

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I have just finished a book about nine working class college students from the State of Washington who won the Olympic gold medal for the rowing competition in 1936 in Berlin, Germany.  It is a classic sports book, and I was surprised by a mystical message in their story.  When the nine would talk about their experience years later, they minimized the glory and the global politics, but rather focused on fleeting moments they shared of grace where the nine felt like one person, rowing with such connection, such joy, that they felt in the presence of the divine.  This moment made everything else pale in comparison.  It was their pearl of great price.

Tonight the gospel beckons us to ask what experience is our pearl of great price?  Jesus offers two parables side by side designed to help us locate our treasure and commit to it.

Spontaneous and Habitual Contemplation

In the first parable about the treasure in the field there is no indication the person was looking for it.  He/She may have been a tenant farmer working the field, a hungry person looking for scraps of crops or someone out for a walk.  The point here is that the reign of God is sometimes like running into treasure unexpectedly.  It must be that there is treasure all over the place and sometime we see it through no effort or intention of our own! Thomas Merton’s calls these moments “spontaneous contemplative experiences.”  These are moments where we see clearly, where we see the love behind everything, where we see how connected everything really is.  They are a pure gift.

Once we have a gifted encounter with the infinite, we want to make a habit of it!  We begin the journey of the second parable where merchant actually knew what he was looking for, he knew there were pearls out there and he searched until he found them.  He had already lived the first parable so he knew it was out there.  This is where the Kingdom of God is like an activity that requires practice and intention.

Both the parables demand a strong commitment to secure the treasure and the pearl.  We need to buy the field!  A couple of weeks ago we looked at the indiscriminate nature of God giving us chance after chance after chance of encounter.  Buying the field means that we have faith in these encounters, that we study them together, that we treasure them as our teacher in the contemplative life.  Buying the field means we mark the spot so we can return.

Falling Into the Treasure

So how do we increase the odds of finding treasure?  We need to start by looking in the right place.  Jesus taught that the kingdom of God is within us.  We are not searching for something outside of ourselves, we are not waiting to be touched by someone far off.  The pearl of great price is within you, often lost in the weeds of ego, rules and wounds.  I love the image of “buying the field” within to give the treasure some room, to create a space within that we can find again.

How else can we increase the odds of encountering treasure within?  Do you know what it feels to be looking for something and feel that you are close?  Richard  Rohr’s says this journey to the treasure within has a definable feeling to it.  He says the spiritual journey is much more like letting go and falling inward rather than striving for something.  We miss the pearl so often because we hang on to concepts, beliefs, memories, worries, wounds and masks.  He says “There is a part of you that has always loved God and said YES to God.  It is the part of you that is Love and all you have to do is let go and fall into it.  It’s already there.”  The treasure and the pearl are already there.

Habits that find treasure within tend to foster this “falling.”  We fall by getting in the present moment, by merely observing, not clinging to, our thoughts and feelings, by anticipating surprise, by avoiding control and performance.  I know for some of you the habit is meditation, for others it is walking in nature, for others it is music, spiritual reading or intentional sharing with others.  There are lots of ways to practice falling.  Lucky for us we get to practice together.

Are these short, little stories good news for you tonight? Perhaps it would be good news for you to be like the boys in the boat and have faith in those spontaneous moments of connection and let them teach you.  Perhaps it would be good news for you to rekindle a habit where you practice the art of falling, falling into divine Love within.  Let’s practice letting go and falling a little tonight around this table of communion.

Amen

George von Stamwitz

The book referenced is “Boys In A Boat” by Daniel James Brown

Richard Rohr’s quote came from his Daily Meditation on July 22, 2014.

Sts. Clare & Francis Ecumenical Catholic Community
Liturgy for the 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Saturday Evening, July 26, 2014
Focus text: Matthew 13:44-46 (“The Pearl of Great Price”)

Photo by The Happy Rower on flickr.com

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What does it mean to “know” God? My favorite prayer guru, James Finley, uses a Buddhist metaphor to explain this. A student may be able to “know” a rhinoceros in the sense that the student could point to a picture of a rhino in a field of other animals like elephants, giraffes, etc. But to know what a rhino is in that sense is so different than experiencing the hot breath of the rhino against the student’s neck! The experience of God is not meant to be as menacing as that; but it is as real as that.

A Feeling of Being Sourced

The experience of God may happen quite spontaneously when we are simply taking a walk. We suddenly realize that we are within a presence that is much greater than us and that we are connected to that Other. It is an experience of being sourced. We can have this experience on a more regular basis by simply quieting ourselves long enough to be aware of this presence that undergirds our very selves. Picture what a plant would experience if it could: suppose it could be conscious of water coming from outside of it into itself until the water becomes completely one with the plant; light falls on the leaves of the plant and is absorbed into the chemistry of the plant. We take in air and water and food; these are but examples of how our lives are totally dependent on the Great Giver, the Great Source, that enables our lives to be. This is the fundamental experience of the presence of God, when we know it as an experience not just as a fact. We experience ourselves as the created, and not the Creative Source.

Knowing/Not Knowing

Of course we cannot know the one who is total mystery. But it’s like standing in front of a sunset or an ocean: we cannot take it in, but for all that we still experience it. We may be lost in wonder and could never put it in words, but we are still standing in front of something we are experiencing. This is sometimes called knowing The Unknowable.

Paul’s Insight

This fundamental experience expresses itself to us in different ways at different times in our lives. In Paul’s letter to the Romans tonight we have one example of a specific experience of God, that people of prayer come to know. Paul says,

(26)Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. (27)And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27)

“What could this possibly mean?” you might ask. Have you ever had the experience of talking to a therapist when you had no idea what was upsetting you? You just knew you were a bundle of racing thoughts and swirling feelings. You talk in a way that sounds like gibberish. And then the therapist says, “It sounds like you’re saying…” and tells you exactly what you could not say yourself. You’re in awe. How did she do that?! That is exactly what I’m trying to say. And you feel immense satisfaction that you have been heard…even when you did not know how to speak.

Paul is saying that the Spirit of God is so close to you that the Spirit is able to understand you better than you understand yourself. And what seems like simple frustration to you is a kind of opportunity for the Great Listener to pay very close attention to you and to report her understanding within the Divine Community that is our God. If we are aware of this movement inside of us, this shift from frustration to a deep confidence that we were heard, then we understand on an experiential level what Paul is saying.

We could think of another example. Have you ever had an experience of a lawyer defending you for something? You think your back is up against the wall. They proceed with confidence, knowing exactly how to provide the best defense. And you are amazed. (Remember one of the names for the Holy Spirit is “advocate,” which is a name we use for lawyers.) Similarly perhaps a doctor relieved you of a condition that you were despairing of. These too can serve as analogies for how God “takes our part” and “works wonders” on our behalf bringing us to an unexpected sense of satisfaction.[i]

My point this evening is that the basic experience that we all may have of “being sourced” by God sometimes comes to us in the specific form that Paul is talking about. And that is those times when we don’t know how to represent ourselves well before God. God herself knows how to pay attention and give us what we didn’t even know we needed. But when we receive it, we know it was exactly what we need. We are not alone. All of life is shared.

Sts. Clare & Francis
16th Sunday of the Year
Saturday, July 19, 2014
Wisdom of Solomon 12:13, 16-19
Romans 8:26-27
Matthew 13:24-43
Homily by Frank Krebs

Photo by RayMorris1 on flickr.com

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[i] Afterthought: one member of our parish wrote to me after hearing me preach this message in church. After complimenting me, This member said, “And what you did not talk about is that, much to our dismay, at times, there is no apparent shift or in-breaking of God’s presence. Like the roots of a flower seeking moisture in a drought, sometimes there is no apparent sourcing of power; sometimes we go through those often written about anguished periods of “dry prayer.” I agree. From my perspective the conversation about “dry times” belongs in a discussion about the advanced stages of prayer. Usually when I preach I want everyone to know how experiencing the presence of God is available to everyone. This is not the purview of mystics alone. But, yes, that was a very special moment on the cross when Jesus cried the words of the 22nd psalm that his people had cried for centuries and would cry again for centuries more especially at the Holocaust: “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?” That feeling of the absence of God is real also. Every follower who walks after Jesus will know this moment. At the same time, we as beginners need to know the simple message that God is there for us day in and day out. Most often the experience of that can be very palpable. But yes, sometimes God is there when we cannot feel it. I don’t want to talk about “dry times” out of the context of a graced life; it can sound like the Christian life feels more like abandonment than like accompaniment.

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When I was a kid, my parents maintained a good-sized vegetable garden in our yard. You see, I was raised in a not-yet overdeveloped suburb in the Metro East… a place where one could actually see the magnificence of the stars at night, without the overbearing glow of city lights. Our yard was a couple acres in size, and almost a quarter of that plot of land was devoted to growing green beans, sweet corn, potatoes, carrots, lettuce… it was quite nice, really… to have the makings of a farmers’ market in our own yard. We even tried growing strawberries and pumpkins on occasion – specialty crops as my dad used to call them.

Of course, this farming venture was not without its challenges. The deer and rabbits seemed to love our produce just as much as we did, prompting a continual opportunity for problem solving – dad was adamant about not erecting a fence of any kind, so we were always looking for more natural ways to keep the wildlife out of the garden (which, by the way, was a never-ending loosing battle). Drought, not surprisingly, contributed to a small harvest on more than one occasion. And, perhaps the greatest challenge of all to my ambitious parents, convincing my brother and me that picking green beans and digging up potatoes is in fact not a chore but could actually be rewarding!

Have you ever picked green beans or dug up potatoes? Let me be frank and say, no matter how you feel about gardening, picking green beans and digging up potatoes is absolutely a chore! Between the unyielding heat and humidity we all know so well… the never-ending feeling of being sweaty, the relentless mosquitoes — God help me I may never understand the purpose of mosquitoes in creation – gardening is hard work. And you better believe these memories come right back to the forefront of my mind every time my spouse mentions an interest in planting a garden at our house.

But I remember the conversations, too – the times of fellowship with my family – as we sat on the back porch snapping green beans. While perhaps other families gathered around their television sets or each went off their separate ways, I realize the blessing that my family – extended family included – would sit in lawn chairs in a circle around citronella candles, snapping green beans and enjoying one another’s company, late into the evenings… giving the younger ones an opportunity to catch lightening bugs. Did you ever catch lightening bugs when you were a kid? And those are memories I wouldn’t trade for the world. Maybe this gardening thing wasn’t that much of a chore after all… maybe it was pretty rewarding.

I also remember what a treat it was to eat a large fresh salad… lettuce, cucumber, carrots, tomatoes, or maybe sometimes even strawberries, that had just been in the ground only a few hours before. My dad used to say that no food ever tastes as good as the food you grow yourself.

I haven’t set foot in a vegetable garden for more than 15 years now, but I still enjoy fresh produce. I’m one of those that can’t pass a roadside produce stand or farmers’ market without stopping to take a look… because, to me, there’s nothing quite like the simple and natural taste of fresh produce. But it wasn’t until my dad quit planting a garden that I realized the produce itself isn’t what I reminisced about… it was the loving connection I shared with my family that made the harvest so satisfying.

Maybe you come from a gardening family too. Or maybe you know the feeling of kin-ship – gathering with loved ones – around the kitchen table. A friend of mine talks about how her family gathers together regularly for fish fries. A classmate of mine over at Eden talks about her family’s multi-generational baking… where the kitchen is full, from old to young, for a day of baking fresh breads and pastries. Or maybe these family gatherings around food are something you’ve only been able to dream of. Whatever the case, food has a way of bringing us together… and not just for the physical nourishment.

Some call it mealtime but I propose a more accurate name would be table fellowship. Have you ever actually stopped to listen just how loud a crowded restaurant can be? The decibel volume of a restaurant dining room can be just as great as busy traffic out on the freeway. That’s because when we gather for food, we’re not really gathering just for food. If we were gathering just for the food, we’d simply eat and leave and the volume level of a restaurant would be more like that of a library. It’s the conversation and the company – the companionship or the kin-ship – that really nourishes us. And I suppose this is an underlying message of today’s Gospel lesson as well.

Friends, bread and wine have been dietary staples for ages. Because of their simple composition, it’s relatively easy to make bread and wine in any region of the world, in any culture, and at any point in human history. But, you see, when we come to the table for this Blessed Sacrament, we’re not coming merely for the food. It’s the conversation and the company – the companionship or the kin-ship – that really nourishes us. Jesus said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” This is not a call to hors devours – it’s a call to a communal relationship with a deity that desires to be in relationship with us – a deity that is present with us at the table. A deity that desires not only to satisfy our physical hungers but also our spiritual longings and yearnings.

And this day, this special day, is designed to remind us just what this Blessed Sacrament is really all about.

Our God does not call us to some impersonal dinnertime, having set aside some food for us to eat by ourselves. Our God calls us to fellowship and company with God’s self. We are called to the family table – to Christ’s very presence – to a relational meal that satisfies our souls. That’s why the Eucharist is sometimes also called Holy Communion – communion comes from the Greek word koinonia which means community! We are called into a community in which Christ is real and present with and for us. And this community is shared around the table – the table at which Christ’s presence is made known to us.

I wonder, as those first apostles looked back and reminisced about their time with the living Christ, prior to his crucifixion and resurrection, do you suppose they remembered the food they ate? Or is it more likely they recalled and cherished the company and companionship – the community they enjoyed with their messiah? These apostles, who represented very different walks of life, were brought together into community with God’s self and this is an important lesson for this day:

The Feast of the Body of Christ refers to both the Body of Christ as well as to all those brought together in Christ. Though we may come from different paths in life, different professions, different educational backgrounds, different socioeconomic statuses, and even different denominations and different states, we are called into one another’s company around the common table that unites us – the table at which Christ calls us into relationship with Christ’s self and with one another. And, I believe, it’s in this loving connection we share together as a family around this table with Christ’s presence, that we experience the fullness of God’s never-ending peace and love.

Amen.

Rob Kirbach
Feast of Corpus Christi
May 4, 2014

Photo by mystuart on flickr.com

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The prophet Hosea has a poetic verse that sets our theme tonight:

Oh let us know, let us press on to know the Lord,
God’s going forth is as certain as the dawn.
And God will come, God will come to us like the rain,
Like the spring rain, watering the earth.  (Hosea 6:3)

This beautiful image is one of many in Scripture speaking of the utter indiscriminate nature of God.  God is like the sun shining on the just and the unjust.  Today we read about a Sower blissfully throwing seed all over the place unconcerned about ever running out, giving every type of soil chance after chance.

This same quality of God to be indiscriminate is in us though that spark of divinity given to us.  Of all the attributes of God given to us this one may be the most countercultural, the hardest to translate into practical living.  This part of us flies in the face of our instinct to be strategic, efficient, effective and to always get results from good effort.  Because we are this way we think God is this way.  Let’s try to sort this out tonight and be a people that embody an indiscriminate God.

Indiscriminate Love In Action

Let’s dig a little deeper about our disconnect with indiscriminate love.  In the ancient world there were two rock bottom beliefs, scarcity and reciprocity, that made it hard for people of faith to believe their experience in an abundant, indiscriminate God.   Scarcity is the belief there is just not enough to go around.  Whatever you have reduces what is available for me.  This belief makes us hang on tightly to things, makes us calculate very carefully everything we give, makes us competitive with others.  Reciprocity is similar, but also tied to the need to protect honor.  If you give me something I am indebted to you and lose honor if I do not return the favor.  It is all very calculating.

Scarcity and reciprocity are still with us and on steroids.  Walter Brueggemann argues we see these beliefs in our cultural gospel – what he calls the gospel according to Nike.  According to this gospel the person who dies with the most shoes wins.  And guess what?  There are not enough shoes to go around.  This “gospel” is well funded and has unlimited talent to propel its message.

So what does embodying an indiscriminate God looks like in a world of scarcity and reciprocity?  We only have to flip back few pages in Matthew’s Gospel for the beginning of an answer.  Love is the currency of the Kingdom and Jesus asks in the Sermon on the Mount “if you just love those who love you (i.e. reciprocity) what good is that, even the Gentiles do that?”  Everyone acting in reasonable health does that!  The Gospel really begins in our lives when we love those who cannot or will not love us back.

Healthy family relations have mutuality much of the time, but there are times when a partner or a family member cannot or will not love you back.  I bet there are dozens of stories like this here tonight.  Sometimes tough choices are required, but other times we need to exercise our “indiscriminate love” muscle and not require a return on our investment.  We sometimes need to throw seeds of love risking no return.  The same is true in our church family.  There are seasons where you feel you are giving more than receiving (ask the parish council for example!) and this critical spiritual muscle gets some exercise.

This spark of divine life with indiscriminate love in us will pull us past our family and community and out into the world.  The problems seem so big, the injustices so profound.  We are tempted to pull back with our time, our treasure and our love so they will not be wasted.  But our Gospel today asks us to believe love is never wasted, love never ends.  A man was walking the beach one morning after a storm and thousands of starfish had washed up and were stranded.  A child was picking them up one by one and throwing them back into the sea.  The man asked the child why bother, how can it matter in the face of the size of the job.  The child lifted the starfish in her hand and said “it matters to this one”!  Our faith asks us to believe love always matters.

It Is Not a Feeling

We can’t wait until we feel indiscriminate love to love indiscriminately.  It is a choice.  Jesus final encounter with Peter is a powerful meditation on this.  Remember when Jesus at the end of John’s Gospel asked Peter three times if Peter loved Him?  Our translation misses the nuance in the original language.  Jesus asked if Peter loved with “agape love,” that is selfless and indiscriminate.  Peter, I expect humbled by his recent failures, replied that he loved Jesus only with “philio love,” a mutual love of friendship.  He made no claim of greater love, but Jesus nevertheless each time said go to work, go love indiscriminately, “go feed my sheep.”

May this Eucharist help us glimpse a God that is not controlled by scarcity and reciprocity but a God of countless invitations to union.  Let’s choose indiscriminate love whether we feel the divine spark or not.  Let’s  “feed sheep” this week by loving our family, our community or our world indiscriminately in some new way and join in the “spring rain, watering the earth.”

Amen

George von Stamwitz

Homily – Like a Spring Rain
Sts. Clare & Francis Ecumenical Catholic Community
Liturgy for the 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Saturday Evening, July 12, 2014
Focus text – Matthew 13:1-9 (the Sower and the Seed)

Photo by Patarika on flickr.com

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Have you had the experience of taking a walk and being so preoccupied with “what’s going on in your life” that you missed what was going on in your life right in front of you?  It’s as if you may as well not have been there.  You missed the sand pipers leading you along the path, the red tailed hawk in the tree next to you, the white puffy cloud against a blue, blue sky.  Life was trying to give itself to you, and you were fighting what you thought was “your life.”

Sometimes I picture God like hopeful parents bent over a crib waving a rattle at their baby hoping to engage the baby.  The baby cries.  They try to sharpen its sense of connection.  The baby stares off obliviously.  They try to sing a song to bring it into the lovely world of music. 

To be centered in life itself is a very different experience from simply focusing on “the stuff in my head.”  It’s a life of being engaged, not isolated; connected, not wrapped in literally “my own little world.”  The only real life is life shared.  This may sound odd, but there really is no life at all if there is no sharing.  And that is because when we get below all the “stuff in our head” and just get down to where we are simply a human being living and breathing and aware that we did not generate all of this for ourselves—that is when it is possible to experience our Source.  We are like a plant that—removed from the source-ing ground—would simply wilt and not be.  The life we call “our own” is a life that is being shared with us by another Source.

God is the Rain Cloud; we are the river.  We are not the Rain Cloud; but we are not other than the Rain Cloud.  All that we have comes from the Rain Cloud and goes back to the Rain Cloud.  We could spend our lives worrying because our existence seems so dependent on, contingent upon, the Rain Cloud.  Or we could marvel in this great sharing that allows us to in fact live.

And we can trust this generous sharing of life, not to be given as a cynical tease.  Why?  Because “the proof is in the pudding.”  When we choose to simply embrace the life we are given (it’s not all birds on a walk, but it is all a journey of learning to love), we find the life we were intended to live—a life that is shared with a great Lover. 

This is the “rest for our soul” that Jesus mentions in tonight’s gospel.  It is different than the restless soul.  When we experience the latter, we need to “return to center” and pay attention to the deeper truth.

Sts. Clare & Francis
14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Saturday, July 5, 2014
Zechariah 9:9-10
Romans 8:9, 11-13
Matthew 11:25-30
Homily by Frank Krebs

Photo by Matthew on flickr.com

 

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“Who do you say that I am? Odd question actually. Those of us who do not know ourselves very well ask the question out of desperate need. We are looking for others to provide definition for us by telling us we are needed, successful, attractive etc. But if we, like Jesus, already know who we are, then the question becomes a matter of instruction. There is something in this question for us and the world to learn.

To get the rhythm of the text we need to back up to the question Jesus has already answered, “Who do I say that I am?” If we can get this down we can maybe see the prophetic power in the second question, a power that has fueled non-violent liberation movements for generations.

Who do I say that I am?

Jesus grew up in a world that was governed by a rigid social hierarchy where everyone knew their place. Boys and girls did what their parents did. Whether you were a slave, a peasant, a merchant or in the elite there was no mystery at all about who you were and who was superior to you. In Jesus, however, we have someone who mysteriously combines the human and the divine and teaches we all share this mysterious combination. The mystery is back. Who am I? It is now a great question. The entire social system was suddenly at risk!

Is our world with its superficial conclusions about us all that different? Getting to our true selves, however, can be a wild ride. Peter’s erratic faith journey with Jesus can be seen as a metaphor for our internal journey with the spark of divine life within us. Peter initially was willing to change his entire world to follow this Life, and perhaps you have felt that way after a moment of awakening. But shortly thereafter he wanted to control this Life. He even scolded it! Then again stuck around and did not quit when he clearly did not understand and others were leaving. In today’s gospel, in a moment of gifted clarity he names this Life as divine. Then Peter denied he even knew this Life. He abandoned the Life when it got too scary. At the end he returned.

If you want to know what it is like to get to know the divine spark within, get to know Peter. It is hard work to embrace the mystery of both human and divine at work in you. It is a journey of a lifetime.

Being Who I Say I Am In the World

But if we can stick with it answer the question “Who do I say that I am?” we can then challenge the world, or join with others challenging the world, by asking “Who do YOU say that I am?” This question has been the central tactic of non-violent social change from Gandhi to Martin Luther King Jr., to Nelson Mandela. It exposes the fake tolerance that says “I love my slaves and take good care of them.” Or “A woman’s role in the church is very important, just different than men.” Or “I have friends who are gay, I am not prejudiced.”

But Jesus’ question is hard to dodge and when the real definitions come out many, but not all, choke on the definitions supporting discrimination. Answers such as “You are inferior” in the case of race,” You are disordered” in the case of orientation “You are too emotional and not qualified for leadership” in the case of gender eventually cause people of good will to squirm and change.

In 1963, Martin Luther King Jr., gave a speech about a dream. It was a happy coincidence that by 1963 millions of people owned TVs and the speech was transmitted live by three networks. America in the north and south saw passion, but no hate. They saw great intelligence weaving theology, history, politics and philosophy into a beautiful narrative. Behind the powerful words I believe millions being exposed to the civil rights movement for the first time heard a powerful rendition of the question from an African American, “Who do YOU say that I am?”

Who Do I Say That You Are?

Most of us will not be involved in liberation movements day to day, but can you see what a gifted role we can play? Given all the false messages we receive and our brothers and sisters receive, we can join in the tradition of liberation whenever we ask “Who do we say that you are?” It is a prophetic day if we ask ourselves this question at the grocery store, or in the midst of the social hierarchy of our job. It is a prophetic day if we ask this question every time we meet as we greet hope to greet everyone as a unique, mysterious combination of humanity and divinity regardless of nationality, creed, gender, orientation or credit score.

For centuries folks have visited Christian churches and found there people eager to tell them about who God is. Let’s be a community that is eager most of all to tell all who will listen who they are.

Amen

George von Stamwitz

Sts. Clare & Francis Ecumenical Catholic Community
Liturgy for the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul
Saturday Evening, June 28, 2014
Focus text: Matthew 16:13-19

Photo by InSapphoWeTrust on flickr.com