08 March 2014

Crushing the Devil With Truth

NB. I've posted this one a couple of times before. . .I wrote it in Rome. . .but I've never preached it, so gonna give it a go this weekend.

1st Sunday of Lent
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Ann Church, Bourg, LA

Who knows what tempts you better than you do? You know the sights that can draw your eye; the possibilities that make your heart beat a little faster; the delights that lead you off the righteous path into the wilderness of sin. If power and prestige can't tempt you, maybe vengeance or victory can. If food, drink, sex have no inordinate appeal to you, maybe possessions or dissolute daydreams can grab you. Though what tempts each of us is calculated to appeal to an individual weakness, all of our weaknesses together share a common theme: sell eternal life for the price of a moment's indulgence; exchange enduring love for temporary affection, divine mercy for worldly pardon. Temptation is all about showing us what we can have right now if we would just let go of all that we have been given as heirs to the Kingdom. The Devil whispers, “Sign over your eternal inheritance, and I'll give you everything you desire right now.” You know what you want, right? I mean, you can draw up a list of desires; catalog everything you need, true? If you can't, no worries. The Devil is here to help. If anyone knows what you desire better than you do, it's the Fallen Angel. He's eager to parade all of God's eternal rewards before you. The catch? Nothing he can show you is his to give away. So, everything he can show you comes with a price.

We might wonder why the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the desert to be tempted by the Adversary. Is there really any chance that he might surrender to temptation and fall from his Father's grace? Could the Devil win? Nope. Jesus can be tempted, but he cannot sin. If he cannot sin, what's the point of tempting him? Why does the Devil waste his time? Quite apart from the fact that it is the Devil's nature to tempt God's children to sin, it's important for us to see how temptation works, to understand what's so appealing about what the Devil has to offer and why his wares are so dangerous. The first thing we must remember about the Devil is that he is a fallen angel. Once, he was placed at the pinnacle of the Lord's angelic hierarchy. He enjoyed God's favor; lived at the foot of the Throne. He has seen what awaits us if we endure in Christ. He also knows that if we endure in Christ and find ourselves face-to-face with the Divine, his self-imposed loneliness and despair is made all the more intense. By enduring in Christ, we abandon for eternity the demonic agenda of rebellion against our Father. And Rebellion longs for nothing more than it longs for miserable company. So, the Devil's recruitment program is simple: offer us our heavenly reward to be enjoyed now; tempt us to borrow against our inheritance and party 'til it's spent.

Think about what tempts you. Why do those particular things appeal to you? What is it about power, prestige, sex, money, vengeance, food/drink, etc. that draws your eye? Are you so corrupted, so deeply fallen that you long for these delights? Maybe so. But your corruption doesn't explain why power, prestige, sex, etc. are appealing. Our fall from grace doesn't explain the lure of greed or envy or wrath. Pride, sloth, lust, etc. are all states of a soul already surrendered to temptation. Why do these souls surrender? Remember what the Devil knows. He has seen what awaits us if we endure in Christ. Having seen our perfected reward in heaven, he can show us imperfect copies, distorted imitations. In fact, the only thing he can tempt us with is cheap knock-offs, bootlegged versions of the prizes Christ has already awarded us. The temptation to indulge in inordinate sexual desire is nothing more than an offer to fake a genuine loving relationship. The temptation is indulge wrath through vengeance is nothing more than an offer to distort true justice in charity. Everything that tempts us to sin is a godly desire perverted to serve Rebellion.

This is what Jesus teaches us in the desert. Everything the Devil uses to lure Jesus into the demonic fold already belongs to the Lord. Christ already possesses all wealth, all power, all bodily fulfillment. The only course left to the Devil is to promise to give these treasures to Jesus now. Skip the teaching and preaching, skip the miracles; skip the beatings, the ridicule, the Cross. Skip all the nasty, brutal pain and suffering and all this can be yours. Jesus answers the Devil by saying, in essence, “These are mine already. You cannot give what is not yours.” The Devil is defeated not by the force of Christ's will to endure temptation but by the fact that the fallen angel has nothing to give, nothing with which to reward those who surrender to him. All he can do is hold a filthy mirror up to the Father's heavenly treasures and promise that the murky reflections are the real thing. The Devil is crushed by truth.

Can we turn this episode in the desert into a weapon against temptation? Yes! If the Devil is only able to tempt us using fun-house mirrors to make fraudulent promises of treasure, then all we need do is carefully examine what it is that tempts us. If we can discern our temptations, we can discern what it is that we most desire from God. If I am tempted by worldly prestige, then perhaps what I most desire from God is the chance to use my gifts for His glory. If I am tempted by inordinate sexual desires, then perhaps what I most desire from God is the gift to truly love without limits. Our weapon against temptation is not willful, stoic resistance but prayerful discernment for clarity about what gifts we need to do the work we have been given to do. Certainly, we can resist temptation but even the strongest walls eventually fall when placed under siege. At what point in the battle do we come to believe that by resisting temptation we are actually refusing a divine gift? That's the greatest temptation of all! How many Christians commit adultery in the name of true love? How many Christians welcome the abuse of worldly power in the name of social justice? Have you ever surrendered to temptation so that a “greater good” might be accomplish? It's a trap. A very dangerous, very devilish trap.

You can spend these forty days of Lent mulling over your sin and seeking after mercy. That's hardly a waste of the season. But here's a challenge for you: rather than contemplating past sins, contemplate on what tempts you to sin. Watch for those times that the Devil draws you in and then contemplate on what gifts you desire most from God. The Devil will promise you a knock-off. But only the Lord can give you a genuine grace.

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Dominican deacons

CONGRATS! to the newly ordained deacons of the Eastern Province. 

Go here for their names and note that the EDP has its own fra. Philip Neri.

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Class on the Nicene Creed

Poster by Fr. Thomas Schaefgen, OP

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06 March 2014

Mendicancy in action. . .

Mendicant Thanks to Shelly R. and Ms Claire for the recent visits to and purchases from the Wish List!

I'm starting to gather material for the fall 2014 classes at NDS and the books help my budget tremendously. . .

Fr. Philip Neri, OP


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05 March 2014

Pope Benedict on secularism

While doing some research for my article on secularism for the Times-Picayune, I've run across a lot of good stuff that I can't use b/c of space limitations. Fortunately, HancAquam isn't so limited!

It is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States comes to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres. The seriousness of these threats needs to be clearly appreciated at every level of ecclesial life. Of particular concern are certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms: the freedom of religion. BXVI, ad limina visit of US bishops in Rome, 2012.

The lack of a hermeneutic of faith with regard to Scripture entails more than a simple absence; in its place there inevitably enters another hermeneutic, a positivistic and secularized hermeneutic ultimately based on the conviction that the Divine does not intervene in human history. According to this hermeneutic, whenever a divine element seems present, it has to be explained in some other way, reducing everything to the human element. This leads to interpretations that deny the historicity of the divine elements. BXVI, Verbum Domini, 2010, 35(b).

. . .the secularized hermeneutic of sacred Scripture is the product of reason’s attempt structurally to exclude any possibility that God might enter into our lives and speak to us in human words. Here too, we need to urge a broadening of the scope of reason. In applying methods of historical analysis, no criteria should be adopted which would rule out in advance God’s self-disclosure in human history. BXVI, Verbum Domini, 2010, 36.

Secularization, with its inherent emphasis on individualism, has its most negative effects on individuals who are isolated and lack a sense of belonging. Christianity, from its very beginning, has meant fellowship, a network of relationships constantly strengthened by hearing God's word and sharing in the Eucharist, and enlivened by the Holy Spirit. BXVI, Sacramentum caritatis, 2007, 76

It must be acknowledged that one of the most serious effects of the secularization just mentioned is that it has relegated the Christian faith to the margins of life as if it were irrelevant to everyday affairs. The futility of this way of living – "as if God did not exist" – is now evident to everyone. Today there is a need to rediscover that Jesus Christ is not just a private conviction or an abstract idea, but a real person, whose becoming part of human history is capable of renewing the life of every man and woman. Hence the Eucharist, as the source and summit of the Church's life and mission, must be translated into spirituality, into a life lived "according to the Spirit."  BXVI, Sacramentum caritatis, 2007, 77.

. . .what is essential is a correct understanding of the just autonomy of the secular order, an autonomy which cannot be divorced from God the Creator and his saving plan. Perhaps America’s brand of secularism poses a particular problem: it allows for professing belief in God, and respects the public role of religion and the Churches, but at the same time it can subtly reduce religious belief to a lowest common denominator. Faith becomes a passive acceptance that certain things “out there” are true, but without practical relevance for everyday life. The result is a growing separation of faith from life: living “as if God did not exist”. This is aggravated by an individualistic and eclectic approach to faith and religion: far from a Catholic approach to “thinking with the Church”, each person believes he or she has a right to pick and choose, maintaining external social bonds but without an integral, interior conversion to the law of Christ. Consequently, rather than being transformed and renewed in mind, Christians are easily tempted to conform themselves to the spirit of this age (cf. Rom 12:3). We have seen this emerge in an acute way in the scandal given by Catholics who promote an alleged right to abortion. 

On a deeper level, secularism challenges the Church to reaffirm and to pursue more actively her mission in and to the world. As the Council made clear, the lay faithful have a particular responsibility in this regard. What is needed, I am convinced, is a greater sense of the intrinsic relationship between the Gospel and the natural law on the one hand, and, on the other, the pursuit of authentic human good, as embodied in civil law and in personal moral decisions. In a society that rightly values personal liberty, the Church needs to promote at every level of her teaching – in catechesis, preaching, seminary and university instruction – an apologetics aimed at affirming the truth of Christian revelation, the harmony of faith and reason, and a sound understanding of freedom, seen in positive terms as a liberation both from the limitations of sin and for an authentic and fulfilling life. In a word, the Gospel has to be preached and taught as an integral way of life, offering an attractive and true answer, intellectually and practically, to real human problems. The “dictatorship of relativism”, in the end, is nothing less than a threat to genuine human freedom, which only matures in generosity and fidelity to the truth. BXVI, Apostolic Visitation of the US, 2008, Response to Questions.

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Advice to Preachers & Listeners

Some advice/notes for the preacher:

The preacher preaches to himself first. Preach “we” and “us” not “you people.” You struggle, fail, succeed, fall, get up, soar, wallow, succeed again. Use your struggles/successes.

Preach the gospel in front of you. What's the Good News in these readings? And what does it mean for us right now in these circumstances?

Avoid the temptation to scratch itchy ears. Preaching what you think we want to hear can be safe, popular, and ultimately damning. 

Challenge, provoke, encourage by preaching the truth. We are stronger than you think. We are also confused, worried, and tempted to despair.  Hold up the ideal.

Point out and celebrate in unambiguous terms our relationship with God. In every homily, tell us how being in love with God changes us. How failing to love hurts us.

Preach struggle and victory. Note the details of struggling to follow Christ but keep our eyes focused on Christ's victory (and ours in him).

Preach with passion. Let us know that you believe what you're preaching.

Stay fresh. Read good novels, good homilies; keep up with pop culture and the Church Fathers.

Feedback to your pastor:

You don't have to Occupy the Pulpit to get good preaching!

Silence = Approval. If no one speaks up, then Father will think all is well.

Encourage your pastor by pointing out what you found helpful/useful in his homily. Let him know that you were listening. Send him a note.

Encourage him to publish his homilies in the bulletin.

Tell him what sorts of things you need to hear. Can you address personal prayer and how to do it better? How do I love more and better? I'm confused about this teaching, can you explain it?

If his homilies seem ill-prepared, challenge him—charitably—to be better prepared.

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Making our gratuitous lives sacrificial

Ash Wednesday 2006
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning. Rend your hearts! Not your garments.

Where do we begin this pilgrimage of forty days? How do we get this time away, this time apart from worldly obsession started?

What jumpstarts our Lenten pilgrimage is first an awareness of our dependence on God for absolutely everything. That we exist at all is contingent, totally conditioned on the goodness of God. Our lives are gratuitous, freely given, radically graced.

Begin this Lenten trek, then, in humility and give God thanks for your life.

If your Lenten pilgrimage is going to produce excellent spiritual fruit you cannot spend these forty days wallowing in sorrow, self-pity, and mortal deprivation. We deny ourselves always if we would grow in holiness, but this isn’t the kind of denial that looks like the public posturing of the Pharisees. Our Lenten denial is the self-emptying of Christ, that is, our best work at doing what Jesus did on the cross. Lenten denial is about making our gratuitous lives sacrificial. We sacrifice when we give something up and give it back to God.

Therefore, turn your heart over to God. Give your life back to Him. Repent of your disobediences, rejoice in His always ready forgiveness, and then get busy doing His holy work among His people.

If your Lenten trek is going to be about little more than pious public display, don’t bother with Lent this year. Jesus teaches his disciples that performing righteous deeds for show—fasting, giving alms—will win you nothing from our heavenly Father. He calls those who strut around showing off their piety hypocrites. It’s a show, pure theater. Nothing but thin drama for public consumption. He says, “[…] when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting[…].”

Jesus’ admonition here is about our tendency to think that we’re doing something substantial when really all we’re doing is something very superficial. Does that rosary around Madonna’s neck really mean she venerates the Blessed Mother? Does the cross of ashes most of us will wear today mean that we’re truly humble before the Lord? That we’re wholly given over to repentance, to a conversion of heart, and a life of holy service? If that cross of ashes is going to be a mark of pride for you today or a temptation to hypocrisy, wash it off immediately. If that cross of ash is going to be the sum total of your witness for Christ today, wash it off immediately. In fact, when you fast, wash your face!

Our Lord wants our contrite heart not our empty gesture. Our Lord wants our repentant lives not our public dramas of piety. When you pray, go to your room and close the door. When you fast, wash your face. When you give alms, do so in secret. Rend your hearts not your garments.

The Lenten pilgrimage we begin today is an excursion into mortality, a chance for us to face without fear our origin and our destiny in ash. It is our chance to practice the sacrificial life of Christ, giving ourselves to God by giving ourselves in humble service to one another. Lent is our forty day chance to pray, to give alms, to fast and to do it all with great joy, smiling all the while, never looking to see who’s noticing our sacrifice.

Remember, brothers and sisters: dust is never proud.

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04 March 2014

The Last Four Things



"The Last Four Things"

St Ann Church, Bourg, LA

March 8th-11th at 6.30-7.30pm

Sat., Mar 8th       Death & Judgment

Sun., Mar 9th*     Purgatory

Mon., Mar 10th     Hell (confessions available afterward)

Tues., Mar 11th    Heaven (confessions available afterward)

* I will be celebrating and preaching at all the Sunday Masses.

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03 March 2014

Thomistic Guide to Spiritual Growth

A Dominican shout-out and mendicant thanks to Ms Claire (a fellow member of the Grammar Nazis Local No. 654) for sending me Kevin Vost's Unearthing Your Ten Talents: A Thomistic Guide to Spiritual Growth from the Wish List

I started reading the book this morning and it is shaping up to be a great read. 

Vost basically writes about most of the stuff I've been trying to write and preach about for the last nine years. His presentation and clarity are far better than anything I've come up with however. 

If you're a spiritual director, you will find this book to be extremely useful. It is neatly divided into the theme of The Ten Talents. Each talent is explained in Thomistic terms, not overly technical terms but still true to the source.

He covers the theological virtues, the moral virtues, understanding-science-wisdom, and concludes with a section on applying and perfecting your Ten Talents. 

Rest assured, this is not New-Agey, psychobabbly pop-spiritual direction. Good, solid stuff.

Try it!

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02 March 2014

Audio: "Pour out your hearts before Him. . ."

Audio File for 8th Sunday OT:  "Pour out your hearts before Him. . ."


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Pour out your hearts before Him. . .and serve Him alone.

8th Sunday OT (A)
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

Audio File

O Lord! Why have you forsaken me?Rest in God alone, my soul.” O God! Why have you forgotten me? Rest in God alone, my soul.” O Lord! Why have you abandoned me? “Get a grip already! I haven't forsaken, forgotten, or abandoned you. Remember, my soul, I AM your rock, your salvation, your refuge and your strength. I AM your stronghold and your hope. Trust in Me at all times, O my people! Pour out your hearts before Me, and nothing will ever disturb you.” So says the Lord to His anxious people. Pour out your heart before the Lord. And nothing will ever disturb you. At the center of your love for God and one another – your heart – who or what takes up the most time and space? That is, when you carefully consider the source and summit, the foundation and center of your day-to-day existence, who or what directs your heart and mind? If that who or what is anyone or anything but Christ himself, then pour out your heart before the Father, pour out whatever or whoever it is that directs you, and surrender yourself once again to Christ. If you are worried that God has forgotten you, ask yourself: have I forgotten God? 
God's people are anxious. They are afraid that He has forgotten them. So, He asks Isaiah, “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.” Lay to rest then any worry that God will forget us. If we are going to worry, let's worry about a very real and dangerous possibility: that we will forget God. That we will abandon the Lord and His covenant with us in Christ. Pushed and pulled from every side by the seductive forces of a godless culture, it is all too easy, all too expedient to give up on the Father and His Christ. He promises that nothing and no one will ever disturb us. True. But He doesn't promise that nothing or no one will never try. Whether or not we will be disturbed by this world's seductions is predictable. Whether or not we will be seduced is also predictable. How? Ask yourself: who or what sits on the throne of my heart? Who or what rules you? To put it in gospel terms: whom do you serve? Whose call do you answer? If Christ rules your heart; if you serve Christ and his Church, then there is only one call to answer, one voice that gets your attention and obedience: “Trust in Me at all times, O my people! Pour out your hearts before Me, and nothing will ever disturb you.” Pour out your hearts before Him. . .and serve Him alone.

Jesus says it as plainly as it can be said: “No one can serve two masters. . .You cannot serve God and mammon.” God cannot rule your heart if your heart is already ruled by a foreign god. . .or a disordered passion, or an alien creed, or your own ego. The throne of your heart has room enough for just one Master. Who will it be? Financial security? Personal achievement? Social prestige? Jesus urges his disciples, “Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” Then he asks, “Are not you more important than they? Can any of you – by worrying – add a single moment to your life-span?” If the Father feeds the birds of the sky so that they do not worry about food, and if we are more important than they, then it follows that the Father will care for us as well. When you place the Father on the throne of your heart, you do not worry. Why? B/c nothing bad will ever happen to you? No. B/c you will never again feel want or need? No. Well, why? B/c you will know that whatever comes will never be, can never be more anxiety-producing than forgetting the One you serve. With Christ as the source and summit, the center and foundation of our day-to-day living, nothing and no one can disturb you.

There's room enough on the throne of your heart for just one Master. Who will it be? Financial security? Personal achievement? Social prestige? A job can be lost, money stolen. Works can be destroyed or bettered by another. And there's always someone ready to take your place as king of the social hill. It's all just more junk to worry about. Jesus reminds us, “So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’” And then, sounding very much like he did last week, he adds, “All these things the pagans seek.” Who are these pagans? They're the ones who serve Money, Popularity, Vengeance, the Thing of This World – all passing away as fast as an empty heart can grab them and give them a crown. This is not who we were made to be – temples to house the temporary gods of a failing world. We were made – pagans and Christians alike – we were made for eternity, built to endure the purifying Love of the One Who made us. But such endurance is only made real by a decision, a decision to serve the One Who made us, to serve Him alone. “No one can serve two masters. . .” No one can survive with a heart divided in two.

Nor can one with a divided heart be trusted. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, describes himself and his fellow apostles, “Thus should one regard us: as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” A steward holds the keys to the castle and the treasury, so he must be trustworthy, a servant deserving of his master's trust. Since we can do nothing good w/o Christ, whatever trust we deserve as servants is his before it is ours. And given our very human tendency to fail his trust, it's a good thing that we do not have to rely on our trust alone! Paul notes that when the Lord returns to judge his stewards' care of his kingdom, “. . .he will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will manifest the motives of our hearts. . .” What will he see when the light shines inside? What motives will squirm into view? If Christ rules our hearts, he will see his serene reflection – perfect love, hope, and faith. If Christ rules, he will see what the Father sees when He looks at Christ – a beloved child, a pure soul, perfect trust. However, if some foreign god or disordered passion or bloated ego rules. . .well, all he will see is a heart that has chosen to rule itself, a heart that has chosen to spend eternity primping in a cracked mirror. If we want to Christ to see himself reflected in us at the judgment, then he must be the one we serve. 
As Lent fast approaches and we set ourselves on the 40 day trek, remember all that the Father said to Isaiah, “I haven't forsaken, forgotten, or abandoned you. Remember, my soul, I AM your rock, your salvation, your refuge and your strength. I AM your stronghold and your hope. Trust in Me at all times, O my people! Pour out your hearts before Me, and nothing will ever disturb you.” Pour out from your heart whatever or whoever it is that takes you away from your salvation. Pour out the foreign gods, the disordered passions, the causal idols of deceit and gossip; pour out anything that stands btw you and Christ, anyone who threatens Christ's trust in you. Lest we forget, the Psalmist sings over and over again, “Rest in God alone, my soul. Rest in God alone.” There is no rest, no eternal rest, in anyone but Him.
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10 Thoughts on Confession for Lent

Since we're heading into Lent, I though I type out some random thoughts on confession. . .

1).  Confession is all about receiving the forgiveness we have all already been given.   We cannot earn forgiveness by works, attitude, or even confession itself; if we could, it would be a wage not a grace (i.e. a gift).

2).  Penance is not a punishment for sin.  Completing the penance you've been given is a sign that you have received God's forgiveness and resolved not to sin again.  This is why I always assign sin-appropriate psalms as penance.

3).  Priests rarely remember the sins of individual penitents.  Some believe that this is a grace from God given so that the confessor is spared the difficulty of carrying around the memories of sin.  Sounds good to me.  Frankly, I think the explanation is more mundane: priests have heard it all and sin is boring.

4). Explaining your sins in the confessional is unnecessary and time-consuming.  Just say what you did and leave it at that.  If more info is needed, your confessor will ask.  Explanations generally come across as attempts to excuse the sin.

5).  Ask for counsel if you need it.  Most experienced confessors will know when counsel is needed, but it never hurts to ask.  Just keep in mind that there are others waiting to confess!

6).  This is your confession, so stick to your sins.  You cannot confess for your kids, your spouse, your neighbors, etc.  And please avoid using your confession time to complain about your kids, your spouse, your neighbors, etc.

7).  Faithfully assisting at Mass (actually participating) absolves venial sins.  Why else would we recite the Confiteor and the celebrant pray for our absolution?

8).  If you are unsure about whether or not X is a sin, ask.  Remember:  mortal sins are acts of disobedience that "kill charity" in your heart.  You cannot sin mortally through accident or ignorance. Don't turn a venial sin into a mortal "just in case."  

9).  Keep your eye on the clock and the line.  Make a thorough confession but balance your thoroughness with economy.  Others are waiting.  One way to do this (if there's a long line) is to stick to your mortal sins and save the venial sins for Mass.

10).  Tell your confessor that you will pray for him. . .and then go out there and pray for him! 
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Ласкаво просимо українці

The "Welcome Russians" post from last night prompted a rush of visits from the Ukraine!


Я молюся за вас.

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