Tag Archives: Church

Jesus who Reconciles

Dear Folks,

As we continue to celebrate the Easter season, we encounter the risen Jesus in John 21. It is worth looking at it a little closer.

We see an echo of Luke 5:1-11, when Jesus called Peter, James, and John. After a night of catching nothing, it was morning (See Luke 1:78), Jesus calls them to put out their nets again. As with several of the resurrection accounts, they don’t immediately recognize Jesus. They bring in a very large number of fish (153!), but unlike in the Lucan account, the net is not tearing (John 1:11). Scholars have said that in those days there were 153 different species of fish, and this is a foreshadowing of the Church being able to hold all kinds of people together (when there is a schism in the Church, that is a result of human failing, not a limitation of God’s Church).

Jesus calls them to bring some of the fish they had caught, but he already had bread and fish cooked on a charcoal fire (John 21:9-13). This makes no sense at first, but it echoes all the accounts of multiplying loaves and fishes, in which He calls them to bring forth what they have, but it is He who feeds. This is a paradox in Christianity: it is all the work of His grace, but it requires every last bit of effort that we have. Grace is not an excuse to slack off, and our efforts do not allow us to boast before Him as if we had accomplished something that He has not given us.

Notice it is a charcoal fire (details matter in John, and we must keep our eyes sharp). Remember John 18:18, in which Peter was warming himself around a charcoal fire when he was denying Jesus. Psychologists tell us that our sense of smell is the most powerful sense for evoking emotional memories. Do you think his three-fold denial was on Peter’s mind? Weighing heavily on him? Hmm. Jesus does not address the denial directly, but calls for a three-fold affirmation, each time bringing a call to take care of Jesus sheep (we remember that Jesus is the good shepherd as He taught in chapter 10). Jesus reconciles with Peter and sends him forth as shepherd. The gift he was given was not just for his sake, but for the sake of Peter’s service to the mission of the Church. Going through Acts of the Apostles, we see that God will protect Peter and Paul again and again, but still allow them to suffer and eventually be martyred. It is about what serves the mission.

As an Easter people, we come to Jesus confidently, knowing that He has won the victory. We can bring our sinfulness to be reconciled, knowing that the gifts we receive are not just for our sake, but so that we can serve the mission of the Church. We are called to put forward our mightiest effort, but know it is He who wins the victory. To be an Easter people is to be a people of mission.

Blessings, Fr. Jim

Spirit of Peace

Dear Folks,

As we continue the Easter season, we reflect on how to be an Easter people. Our Gospel last Sunday has two parts: the giving of peace and the Holy Spirit for the sake of reconciliation and showing Thomas something to help him believe. My thought on this is how we as Christians should be reconcilers, and that will help people believe, Jesus said to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen, but have believed (John 20:29).” This does not mean they believe without reason. People may not see the wounds of Christ, but if they see that our behavior is different from the general population because of our faith, then they will have grounds to believe that what we say about Jesus is real.

One of the ways we can strive to be different is being better reconcilers and peacemakers. There is a lot that can be said about how to do that (and I have tried on different occasions). Easter is a good time to talk about how peace can grow from being less concerned with our own desires and more concerned with pleasing God.

St. Paul teaches, “If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above not what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:1-3).”

If our desires are paramount, our desires will always get in the way of each other. “Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make war within your members? You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy, but you cannot obtain; you fight and wage war. You cannot possess because you do not ask. You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions (James 4:1-3).”

Even if we are fighting for God’s truth, against the forces of evil, we do it as people of faith. We can spend ourselves generously to build goodness without the desperation that comes from thinking it all depends on us. We remember people thinking they could save the world without God (I’m thinking of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao) who were sure they were building a better world and that they were so important that they should have no limitations. They killed millions because they thought the tradeoff was worth it. We do what we can do, careful to show that we love even those who oppose us, knowing that God Himself will bring about the victory. The greatness of our cause calls us to higher standards of behavior, not lower. Church people have done nasty stuff when they have forgotten that.

We remember that the ability to do this depends on the Holy Spirit. We are not just celebrating the great season of Easter (though that would be plenty in itself), but also preparing for the great feast of Pentecost. This is a time to reflect and consider how our relationship with the Holy Spirit is enabling us to live as an Easter people.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit (from Isaiah 11) are wisdom, understanding, knowledge, council, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord. The traditional explanations of the first four tend to be a bit subtle, but I think they boil down to knowing that God is more important than anything else, understanding how that affects the way we look at life, and what is life is truly of value, seeing how it all connects, and knowing how to respond. Fortitude is the strength actually to do what we now know we should do (based on the first four). Piety is a sense of awe toward God and attentiveness to Him. Fear of the Lord is, of course, not about fear in the usual sense, but a deep desire to be pleasing to God and a deep horror of displeasing Him.

The fruits of the Holy Spirit (from Galatians 5) are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

As we prepare for Pentecost, we can pray regularly for the Holy Spirit to increase these attributes in us, that we may better live as an Easter people, may better be peacemakers, and may better be witnesses of the Gospel to the world.

Alleluia! Fr. Jim

Love and Baloney

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Love and Baloney

Imagine a young man and a young woman.  They have very little money, but he goes out into the fields and collects some flowers.  He makes them baloney sandwiches and puts them in a paper bag.  He spreads out the picnic on newspaper, and says to her, “I love you more than the sun, the moon, the stars, brook trout and the Green Bay Packers. Will you be with me for the rest of our lives?”  She melts.

Now, it is their fiftieth anniversary.  Even though they live in an upscale condo in the center of a large city, he drives to the country and picks wild flowers.  He makes baloney sandwiches, and puts them in a paper bag.  He spreads newspaper on the table, and says to her, “I love you more than the sun, the moon, the stars, brook trout and the Green Bay Packers. Will you be with me for the rest of our lives?”  She melts.

Someone who didn’t know the history might say to him, “Are you crazy? Your fiftieth anniversary, you could easily afford roses and catering, and you do this?”  It is the connection to the history of the relationship that gives it meaning that it would not otherwyse have. In relationships, rituals, signs and symbols can have a power beyond what they are because of what they mean. (I suspect he also took her out to a nice restaurant, but that is another story.)

In religion, there are a lot of signs, symbols and rituals. Many who don’t know their meaning will disparage them and say they have nothing to do with God.  Many times they are practiced by those who don’t know or don’t care about their meaning, and then they fail in their purpose, and can even do harm (see I Corinthians 11).

There are many who say that a personal relationship with God is something separate from religion, and that they love God but have no use for religion.  I suggest that they either do not understand how ritual, structure, sign and symbol can be a key part of a relationship, have never been taught the meaning of these activities, or experienced people who went through the motions without attending to what they meant.  A kiss is meant to be a sign of affection and caring.  If someone gives you a kiss and then treats you like garbage, that sign is worse than useless.  It even does harm.

Many have left the Catholic Church or are minimally connected because they have not experienced it as a powerful encounter with the love of God. However, if they could only understand that every aspect of the Catholic faith is about encountering, walking with, and loving God.

A next step is with the book A Biblical Walk through the Mass by Dr. Edward Sri, or even his video study program:

http://ascensionpress.com/t/category/study-programs/the-mass/biblical-walk-through-the-mass

And that’s no baloney.

Unholy Holes

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Many years ago, I heard the story of a beautiful summer day in a downtown, when a truck pulls up to the side of the road. Two guys get out and dig a hole. Then two other guys get out and fill in the hole.  They get back in the truck and drive forward twenty feet.  The first two guys get out and dig a hole, and then the second two guys fill in the hole.  This goes on for a while. Finally, people ask, “What is going on?” They said, “We work for the city. The guy who plants the trees is sick today.”

You can have a lot of activity without accomplishing your primary purpose.  This leads to a key question for Church work: Are we fulfilling our primary purpose?  Having a lot of good activities does not, in itself, answer the question. Of course, to do that it would help to know what that purpose is.

I have asked a number of practicing Catholics “What is religion?”  Many have a hard time coming up with an answer.  Some say it is a belief.  Some say it is a set of practices. Is that all it is?

I suggest that religion at its core is a love relationship with the God who loves us very much.  Everything is about that.  A love relationship is different from anything else that is, and nothing can substitute for it. A collection of beliefs and tasks is much, much less than an all-transforming love relationship.

Some people have told me that their relationship with God is one thing, and their religion is something else.  But then what is religion?  If it is not our relationship with God, then why do it?  If we do it to please God, to express our love, devotion and obedience to Him, to encounter Him, then is it not our relationship with God? There may be aspects of our relationship with God that are informal and don’t directly involve Church, but I suggest that in religion there is love relationship with God, and there is nothing else.

According to Sherry Weddell’s Forming Intentional Disciples, only 60% of Catholics believe in a personal God at all, and most Catholics are not certain that they can have a personal relationship with God. If so few Catholics understand what I had thought was the most basic of truths about the faith, then how well have we been communicating the faith?

If we are bringing people into the Church and getting them involved in activities, that is good. But if we are not leading them to an all –transforming love relationship with God, then I suggest that we are not fulfilling our central function. Our tree planting guy is sick.

According to Forming Intentional Disciples, only 30% of those raised Catholic in America are currently coming to Mass once a month or more.  Maybe people have stopped coming because they have not found the Church to bring them to a love relationship with God. In any case, these numbers suggest to me that we need a serious re-examination of how we look at Church and how we do Church. What do you think?

Day 13 in Rome

Day 13, Last day to wander around Rome

Piazza dei Populi

Piazza della Republica

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Via di Quattro Fontani

Rome is thick with history and art.
The Church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Capuchini

The Capuchins, of course, have a lot of history in Rome. After all, they got a drink named after them (what kind of drink do you want named after you?). This church is most famous for its crypt with its arrangements of the bones of deceased Franciscans.   These bones have been stacked and arranged artistically requiring the bones of thousands of hours of work. (They didn’t want pictures taken. More info at:  http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/santa-maria-della-concezione.)

I am reminded of the St. Katherine’s monastery at the base of Mount Sinai. They had a building with bins of skulls, bins of leg bones, etc. The idea was to have no personal monument on earth. We remember that on one (on earth) knows where the body of Moses is buried. Here we have no lasting city (Hebrews 13:14). Nathaniel Hawthorne visited this crypt in Rome and found that it dragged down his faith, and he needed blue skies to recharge it.

I’m surprised he would react that way given that his most famous work “The House of Seven Gables” is not the cheeriest text.

One can also question of that is a proper way to treat human remains. However, it speaks of people who were comfortable with their own mortality, and with mortality in general. The museum shows a painting of St. Francis holding a human skull. We remember the admonition of St. Benedict to keep our mortality daily before our face, and the old adage, “Time flies, remember death.” Longfellow wrote, “Art is long, and time is fleeting, and our hearts, though stout and brave, still like muffled drums are beating funeral marches to the grave.”

Perhaps that is to teach us to take ourselves less seriously, for our stay here is so brief while at the same time take our work more seriously, because history is so much larger than we are, and marks that we leave (recognized as ours or not) can affect people for a long time.

When they were laying the first bricks on the Palatine hill, what were they envisioning? It is hard to believe they were planning on an Empire that would last a thousand years, and then leave tools that would help the building of what followed.

Of course, it took the work of countless people, whose bones have long turned to dust, to make that happen. On the one hand, the large number of people involved makes the contribution of each a smaller part of the whole; on the other hand, the gathering of so many contributions made the effect of each last longer and reach farther. I was given to understand that one of the early symbols of Rome was a bundle of sticks, suggesting that bound together they were so much stronger than each individually.

I would also suggest that the effect of our contributions is not merely cumulative, like the value of pennies in a jar, but one can build on another, like supports on a bridge. St. Ambrose encouraged St. Augustine, and both were influenced by St. Paul. Was there a teacher, a parent, or an uncle that gave St. Paul critical encouragement or support that moved him to the path of being zealous for God or strong in learning?  How do you weigh the total effect of that unknown person?

The Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria was even more beautiful than most. My first reaction was, “I want one!” There were some excellent sculptures including the famous Ecstasy of St. Teresa of Avila.

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The Church of Mary of the Angels and Martyrs was large with many large works of art. One wing was dedicated to prayer (the rest to tourism).

While I was there, Mass happened and a small group participated.

Of course, that brings me back to the central point. The greatest treasures are not the buildings, the sculptures or the paintings, but the faith and devotion of the people.

This is the end of my Rome trip.  Next post will take this blog in a new direction.

Day 12 in Rome

Tuesday Oct 15

Day 12 in Rome

You know you are in the area of the Jewish ghetto when you see ads for kosher food.

It was a small area and it didn’t take long to find the Synagogue and Hebrew Museum. (they didn’t want pictures taken, so see more at http://lnx.museoebraico.roma.it/w/?lang=en).

There was also a place that had schwarma, but it was not lunch time. (I’ve wanted to try schwarma ever since the Avengers movie.  I later found a place in Grand Rapids that served it.)

The history of Judaism in Rome involved a lot of persecution by Christians, including some bizarre practices. Jews were confined to a ghetto, forced to wear distinctive insignia on their clothing and banned from all the professions except money lending and selling used clothing. Sometimes thing got better and sometimes worse. There were mentions of some  great defenders like Gregory the great who gave orders that Jews “were not to be persecuted” (score one for Gregory the Great), but there would come a time when things would get bad and then worse, and all of Gregory’s ideas would be forgotten. We have made a lot of progress in the latter half of the 20th century, but can we say “never again”? How can we say for sure that the wind will not turn again in a century or two or five? The council of Nicea certainly wanted to wipe out Arianism for all time. They did not succeed. Heresies never really die. They did, however, cement as much as possible onto the consciousness of the Church that Jesus, a man, is “God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father, through whom all things were  made (got the point?). This did as much as they could to set us on the right course and give as many tools as possible to those who would fight this error in the future.

*The first principle to hammer home is to trust the power of the Gospel story. If we trust in that power, we focus our energy, not on attacking those who think differently, but doing a better and better job telling our story in word and action. Does anyone think we do not have room to grow in how well we share the power and beauty of the Gospel story?

2nd principle: While anyone persecuting anyone is bad, and persecuting people in the name of Christianity is a special horror, there is something uniquely bizarre about Christian anti-Semitism. Folks, we worship a Jewish person!

We have received countless treasures from Judaism. That itself should give us cause to look upon the Hebrew people with reverence. They are related to our boss.

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Palatine

The Palatine, the oldest part of Rome, almost 2800 years old, setting part of the stage for western civilization.

The Circus Maximus was a place of entertainment and violence.

Circus Maximus

Circus Maximus

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What will our place look like in 2800 years? What legacy will we leave?

The Coliseum: one of the greatest entertainment centers Rome has left us: a lot to see and to imagine. On the one hand, people could get a break from the stresses of life. On the other hand, bread and circuses while the empire crumbled.                                                            Coliseum1.jpg[1]                                  Coliseum2.jpg[1]

Yes, I was really there

Yes, I was really there

Where does our empire stand? Are we scapegoating anyone now? Are there some group that are acceptable to mistreat while we are distracted from central issues?

Canticle for today: Isaiah 2: 2-5

Is there a nicer way to end the day than eating gelato looking at the copula of St. Peter’s Basilica? Can’t really do that in Michigan.

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Day 10 in Rome

Sunday October 13

Day 10 in Rome.

Church of the Holy Spirit in Sassia

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Piazza de La Scala.

http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=piazza+della+scala&view=detailv2&&id=8553525ED3F8B8DB9DD1216E140B9BAEC972C5E6&selectedIndex=2&ccid=HWPkiKR1&simid=608047763519047546&thid=JN.hYOj5sbAOOvJJ%2f2XO5fh7A

Here is the Church of S. Maria de la Scala.

Café Aristocampo do la Scala has a drink called a Garabaldi (Campari with orange juice). Forget statues, what kind of cocktail would you like named after you?

Santa Maria en Trastavere

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Lots of Gold mosaic. (I did not get a good interior shot, so see one at https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/52/Santa_Maria_in_Trastevere-inside.jpg)

Saw the monuments of Giuseppe and Anita Garibaldi and their fight for the republic.

Giuseppi Garabaldi

   Giuseppi Garabaldi

Anita Garabaldi

Anita Garabaldi

It seems they were fighting French who were trying to restore the temporal power of the pope. It is sad that such a prized part of Italian history would involve such a dimension of negativity about the pope, but I think it is good that the pope was separated from the role of secular ruler. Temporal power brings added temptation to egomania, and even more importantly, temptation to trust temporal power to build the kingdom, rather than trusting the power of the Gospel Story.

We seek to influence the structures of society by the power of the Story.

Psalm for today: 19

Day 9 in Rome

Saturday Oct 12

Day 9 in Rome

Perhaps I have been too worried about finding the right place to eat. There seems to be a formula for finding a good restaurant in Rome:

Step 1: Find a restaurant.

Step 2: Eat there.

At least, this has worked for me.

When I get back, I will be facing brown rice, tofu and chicken breasts.

People trying to sell tours of the Vatican museum paint such horror stories of waiting in line trying to get a ticket. The wait was just about an hour, and then 16 Euros and I’m in and free to wander.

There is so much art here. I’m not focusing so much on information as taking in the beauty.

Many, many picture and carvings focused on telling the story, mostly Biblical stories, though some of later saints. Beauty was put in the service of impressing the Christian story on people’s minds and hearts.

I’m very glad I took the tour of the Vatican Museum, and I’m very glad I came back by myself.

Such an investment in the telling of stories.
Relationships are communicated in stories. A large part of knowing people is knowing their stories.

How well do we know the stories of our faith?

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Those who know the stories will recognize the images:

The sacrifice of Isaac

The bronze serpent in the desert

The Annunciation

St. Lawrence (with grill)

St. Peter (keys)

St. Paul (book and sword)

Bartholomew (knife and empty skin)

Coronation of Mary.

There are some pictures of contemporary Church figures with Biblical Saints and some pictures of Bible stories with the characters wearing contemporary clothing surrounded by contemporary architecture (contemporary with the artists, not the Biblical figures). This shows that the Bible stories are timeless, as well as rooted in a specific historical time, and we are a part of the story.

Why does the Vatican Museum have ancient Egyptian art, so many Greek and Roman statues including Emperors and pagan gods?

To share the Gospel story we must be lovers of the human story, for the story of the universe is the story of salvation, and if we are to share the human story with the human race, we must know the human story. There are some things, however, that work against the project.

Hundreds of the Greek and Roman statues have inscribed in bold red letters “Munificent Pio VI PM” or something like that. It is either someone seeking to butter up the pope or the pope himself feeding his own voracious ego. Either way, it is not good.

There seem to be two basic errors when encountering the Gospel story:

  1. I am not part of the story, or
  2. The story is about me.

In St. Peter’s square there are so many references to Alexander VII. Of course, when you are pope in the middle ages or renaissance, the temptation to think “It’s all about me” must be enormous.

Raphael did some good stuff. I especially liked his transfiguration and coronation of Mary,

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but best of all was one room, on one side The School of Athens, and on the other, Disputation on the Holy Sacrament, actually about the triumph of the belief in the Real Presence. My response is: “I want one.” Ah, well.

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Could never take enough pictures here. Thank heavens for the internet.

Psalm for today: 115

Day 8 in Rome

Friday Oct 11

Day 8 in Rome

Got a bit of laundry done, not as expensive as I thought. Might take fewer clothes next time.

I wandered a bit, trying to get to know the neighborhood around the Vatican. That is a job in itself. I’d like to get into the Vatican museum without a tour group.

Slipped into the Church of the Holy Spirit in Sassia. As I did the office of readings, a group came in and sat down. Then I noticed they were setting up for Mass.

Mass begin – Surprise, in Polish. My Polish in worse than my Italian, which is terrible, but I got the readings from my smart phone (Remember how sad life was before smart phones?). There are slight variations in when to kneel and when to stand, but otherwyse it is familiar territory, language or no. How wonderful to wander into a Mass and be at home.

Can’t pronounce Gnocchi (nyo – kee). They are so patient with the violence I do to their language.

The Church of the Holy Spirit in Sassia has Mass in English or 10 am on Sunday. Should I go there or back to St. Peter’s? Decisions

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There are many tour groups going around. There are many merchants with trinkets. There are many people trying to sell African collapsible wooden bowls. Clever idea; too bad I don’t need one.

I am so happy that I decided on two weeks instead of one. One week would have not been enough, and I would have been frustrated. Two weeks is, of course, not enough to do everything, but it is enough to say I have done a lot and had room to spend the afternoon sitting outdoors at the restaurant Borgo Nuovo writing, thinking and eating slowly. Sometimes life moves hard and fast and it takes a while to stop, to come to a full stop.

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Day 7 in Rome

Thursday 10-10

Day 7 in Rome

Church of St. Phillip Oratory (Chiesa Nuova).

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I’m getting addicted to these marvelous churches. What am I going to do when I get home?  The ones in Michigan are beautiful in their own way, but not like this. There’s a little chapel with the body of St. Phillip Neri. In a glass case. We don’t have things like this in Michigan.

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The Church of St. Andreas della Valle

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St. Andrew is the patron of the diocese of Grand Rapids.

I came just as Mass began in a side chapel.

I wish I had learned my Latin responses better.

During the consecration, the priest held up the host and I was aware that simple white host was infinitely holier than all the buildings combined. The true power of the churches is as vessels of the work of Jesus.

Church of Gesu again.

It is not as breath – taking as the first time, perhaps because the sun is not shining the same way through the windows, or perhaps because I have seen it before and am getting accustomed to it. Ah, well, nothing that is of the earth can be a permanent thrill. When I got to the second glorious mystery of the rosary it occurred to me that earth the glories appear briefly, and then leave us to tell the story.

Church of St. John Lateran.

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Oh, my.

The Cathedral, the mother church of the whole Catholic world. The literal Chair of the Pope, the Cathedral of the Bishop of Rome.

Twelve foot high statues of the apostles.

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So much history here.

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Unlike St. Peter’s the original was not replaced, but when it was broken was repaired. Modification were made, so it bears the stamp of many hands and many eras, sort of like Catholic culture.

There are many pictures and sculptures, some of stories of popes and the Church, most of Bible stories. Ultimately, the beauty is at the service of the Gospel Story.

St. Mary Major.

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Oh, yes, more of the same.

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It is good.

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Octopus salad. Why can’t we get octopus salad in the Grand Rapids area?

Wearing a dark shirt: this calls for spaghetti.

There are a lot of beggars on the street. I feel bad, but I have learned to question whether giving them money is the best way to help the poor. This, of course, means that I had better do something to help (no, I’m not going to tell you what, at least not today).

Psalm for today: 90.